April 3, 2008

It would appear to me that we are due for a considerable technological backlash. The advent of personal devices has proceeded at such an alarmingly accelerated pace that has exceeded our capacity to fully interpret their real meaning and implication. If we start, however, to turn on the billion-dollar marketing machine and come to realize that there are very real consequences for a family of five to each trot out of the house with a cellphone and iPod, then we might harvest a resistance to our programmed consumerism. I am not certain when it was exactly that we stopped being citizens and became consumers, but I would suggest it likely began in the 1950s, thanks to the post-war boom and the gentle sounds of domesticity oozing so seductively from the darnfangled new thing called "Television".

Indeed, for the first time we could see what a good family was supposed to look like and--most importantly--what a good family should own. As much as the cognoscenti love to derride television, daytime programming had a profound effect on social conditioning, and it helped establish the norms of a nuclear and productive family that we are still struggling to redefine. And closely linked to that norm creation was the emergence of advertising as an indelible influencer of personal worth and value. The much-maligned soap opera owes its very existence to a desire to market household products to women. I would argue that Oprah owes her ascendancy to the decades of captive housewives nurtured through early daytime programming. That Oprah might seek to empower and educate her audience is certainly subversive in its intent, even when she undermines herself with rewards of excessive consumerism.

So, the revolution may well be strapped to your belt. When commentators speak about Facebook, for example, they miss the point. The Facebook software is not the story. The fact that millions of people have adopted the software in the hopes of connecting with other people is the story, and is what we ought to concentrate our attention on. In the desire to sound bite this contemporary phenomenon so many folks conflate Facebook with the relationships on its pages. Facebook is merely a tool, not the conversation. I have no loyalty to Facebook. If it disappeared tomorrow I would move on and not think twice. I adopted Facebook simply because it was the more dynamic and visually interesting option among the early competition. If Facebook asked me to subscribe (like Classmates.com) I would not pay. The other point that should be made is that, given all the options, Facebook is actually the least effective way in which to communicate with one's friends. And yet, it has millions of users despite its inherent limitations and security issues.

If the typical consumer-citizen can be likened to the poor truck in the photo above, it is not surprising to read in the style sections of our newspapers that the dinner party is making a serious comeback. This clamour for visceral contact and communication makes a great deal of sense, although I supect the key agents of this revival are over-35. Meanwhile, the savvy IM one another, all the while checking out a YouTube video they posted earlier, looking up to spot the top 5 countdown on MuchMusic, while they conference on their cell phones, which beep to show them a trailer for the sure fire blockbuster of the year. Is it any wonder that in the midst of all this cacophany, we sometimes need to reach out and actually touch someone?

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