The Continued Commodification of Existence

April 18, 2010 at 8:25 pm (Uncategorized)

Two weeks ago, I’d never even heard the phrase “early adopters, ” although apparently it has been in existence since the early 1960s. In a recent episode of Modern Family,  doofus dad Phil craves an iPad for his birthday, and self-identifies as an early adopter. A lot of people complained the show was essentially an ad for Apple, but the buyers come across as shallow selfish types.

For those of you, unhip like me, an early adopter is that friend of yours who always has to have the new tech as soon as it arrives: first with Windows 7, first with an iPhone, first with an x-box, and now first with an iPad.

Of course, the instant hipness/annoying smugness along with any brief advantage enjoyed by having a toy which few others possess is balanced by the knowledge that within a few short months, a better , cheaper, less buggie version will be available to and enjoyed by the unwashed masses.

An article by Rob Walker in the New York Times last weekend, suggested that we owe a debt of thanks to the early adopters for essentially beta testing in the field. They lay out the cash and wrestle with all the imperfections of the product while the rest of us sit back patiently waiting for the price to drop. In addition, there’s also the possibility the item won’t catch on, and so the coolness factor becomes simply a bad investment. 

I’m not saying I’m above this – I bought London Calling the day it came out, but so far I’ve resisted the temptation to be first in line, in fact anywhere in the line, to buy the latest tech.  So unhip am I that I haven’t quite grasped what the iPad does yet. It looks interesting, and seems to do some cool things, but I don’t know why i need it yet.  The iPod, I get, the laptop I get, but the iPad, not yet.

One review I read quote a satisfied user who noted that the long life battery would allow a user to watch hours of video at the beach. Hmm, the cynic in me thought, who go to the beach to watch videos? Don’t you go to the beach to do, oh I don’t know, beachy things? 

There is a reason of course, and yes, it has to do with the kind of world we live in, and the economic system we live under: Capitalism.

Capitalism is at heart, generalized commodity production: That is, society is concerned with the production of objects intended  for sale. The fundamental law of this society, the law of value, has extended into almost every aspect of human social relations and its expression is capitalism’s tendency to transform everything into a commodity, everything into something for sale.

Choice becomes freedom to choose what to buy, what to consume. Political options are the choice between detergents. As I read the newspaper this morning, my daughter pointed out the packaging on a bottle of body lotion:

Sweet pea forever is a bright blend of colorful petals and lively citrus that expresses the revolutionary spirit of the ’60s.

Whatever I may think of the solutions advanced by sixties radicals, the ideas that racism, the Vietnam war, repression of sexuality and sex were things worth struggling against were worthy. Yet, now apparently those same ideals can be achieved by buying body soap.  

But because soap is not intrinsically exciting, companies and their advertisers feel a need to convince us that our lives will somehow be better, more fulfilled, more complete if we own this product.

I don’t mean to suggest that at its heart capitalism runs on advertising, no that would be essentially Naomi Klein. Nevertheless, it is the continued expansion and encroachment of the law of value into every aspect of our lives that drives this kind of phenomena.

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2 Comments

  1. jo said,

    Regardless of your opinions, you still bought your girl the lotion after all. Not because of its spirit, but because of its hot pink bottle, cool graphic design, and the scent she likes.

    • fischerzed said,

      In my defence, I’m not really sure how it got into the house. I didn’t buy it!

      But seriously, that is the power of the commodity and marketing.

      In the 1960s, the Situationist International talked about the society of the spectacle. The idea of the totally integrated commoidty economy. There are problems with their analysis, but they aren’t entirely wrong.

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