The Emerging Middle

Text by Yishan Lam
Illustration by Amaris Chen

Magazine shelves have become more interesting over the past two years, more splintered. As though holding up a mirror to our point-of-view-hungry, interest-driven, post-hipster selves, newsstands all over have had to make room for more independent editorial perspectives, print and bound. With the arrival of these latter day bibles, manuals for our many possible lifestyle disciplines, we’ve now more specialist subject areas to entertain ourselves with, each artfully handled, expertly done, calling out to be picked up and read. These are our new watering holes for material and spiritual consumption.

We were especially going through a food print renaissance, exemplified by food journals and magazines such as Lucky Peach, Gather Journal, and even Kinfolk—more story-driven options to traditional food glossies, like Nigella’s nerdy cousins just got cooler and bought themselves a printing press. And as for those who eat/read, somewhere along the line, as though fuelled by the instantaneity and ubiquity of Instagram, status updates and dropped pins, we began to consume not just content, but context, story, place, information…nourishing our brains alongside our bodies. We simply have the capacity to take in more, and that is changing what we ask for.

It seemed to signify a turn, some kind of evolution in how we eat reflecting how we want to live. What used to be conspicuous consumption has turned into conscious consumption, where we measure our satisfaction not just by access to wealth but access to quality of life, which we are still in the midst of defining. An evolution in taste where high and low culture, mainstream and fringe, all meet in a marketplace that’s increasingly layered, all because of the emergence of these new complex desires meeting in the middle. As we grow, our notions of growth also begin to change.

Singapore is a largely middle class nation, with middle class aspirations and middle class problems, but we’re also in the midst of generational transition, one rising to take over from the other—making us an incredibly fertile place for taste evolutions to happen, and for local and global brands to experiment. Where supermarket brands from Fairprice to Waitrose start to take on the qualities of independent select stores, where young coffee roaster venues start populating mature residential estates while building their businesses—like Nylon in Everton Park, where lifestyle brand behemoths become more layered, knowing how to better utilize design and designers in richer, more confident ways, serving this emerging middle. Sincerity is picking up the slack where scale left off.

All because you and I want something different from what we’ve had before, and yet we’re not willing to lose our connection with the past, which seems to have been stolen too quickly from us. And we live in hope that the providers of the stuff we buy, the places we inhabit, the vacations we have and the people who make what we eat, understand this intrinsically, and we thank them when they do. We live in the middle, in this generation, with everything happening all at once, all around us, and it is a wonderful place to be. But to whom much inspiration is given, much application is required.

What will emerge from all this? The paper you hold in your hands (the more au courant counterpart to Underscore magazine) ties the answers back to people: the creators who are serving these evolutions through everyday experiences. This column in The U Press will hopefully be a place for continuing insight and observation about how we could live, signaling better ways for all of us, and for our global neighbourhood.

From The U Press N˚1 (Singapore edition).