Tag Archives: consumerism

£1984: the cost of consumer surveillance? The future of facial recognition technologies

surveillanceandcivicaction.pbworks.com

surveillanceandcivicaction.pbworks.com

How close are we to the dystopian world outlined in 1984? Following on from my colleague bschaefer’s article ‘Volunteering for surveillance: Consumerism, fear of crime, and the loss of privacy’, this article discusses the latest challenges to our consumer privacy rights.

The concept of surveillance raises significant social questions, especially in relation to how far technologies constitute an unacceptable degree of intrusion into our private lives. This week Tesco announced their plans to introduce targeted advertising through facial recognition technologies to all 450 of its UK based petrol stations. The OptimEyes screen, developed by Lord Alan Sugar’s company Amscreen, scans the eyes of customers to determine specified categories of age and gender before running tailored advertisements. Although most of us in advanced western states are already subject to a vast array of data collection fuelled by the desire to obtain our interconnected life experiences information.  This latest attempt to monitor and influence our consumer behaviour automatically sets a number of alarm bells ringing, namely to do with the social issues of surveillance, in particular power relations, spaces, and categorisations. (more…)

Volunteering for Surveillance: Consumerism, Fear of Crime, and the Loss of Privacy

Fingerprint_picture.svgThe announcement by Apple this week regarding the latest version of the IPhone excited consumers worldwide. Along with any new release comes with anticipation over what new features will be included. The latest installment of the IPhone, the 5S, comes with a fingerprint technology called TouchID that replaces the now “antiquated” password with a biometric scan of the phone user’s fingerprint. Security experts are praising this new function as a way to increase protection for consumers and deter criminals from attempting to steal the phones. The use of fingerprint technology for security is nothing new, but the application to cellphones is part of an ever evolving culture of control in the United States, and is an example of the growth in passive surveillance.  The need for improved security in cell phones plays on consumer’s fear of crime. The IPhone 5S may be the first phone to include fingerprint technology and, while as of now it remains optional, the use of biometric data for security purposes will slowly evolve into the industry standard and people will lose their choice to opt out.

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Sustainability, social progress, environmental protection, economic growth and energy

Sustainability, social progress, environmental protection, economic growth and energy are discussed using the sustainability framework in Figure 1, where sustainability is at the confluence of social progress, environmental protection and economic growth.

Figure 1 Sustainability framework

(Source: IUCN 2006)

There are designs being made toward Ecological Civilization and welcome moves to address the shortcomings of GDP in Completing the picture – environmental accounting in practice by the Australian Bureau of Statistics .  Extending the national accounts to include degradation of natural resources makes a measurable target for politicians to focus on rather than purely GDP.    However, there are problems when social progress is overlooked in the move toward more environmental protection. (more…)

Hoarding and other disorders – are they rooted in the mind or the market? And what does this tell us about mental illness?

Of late, behaviors such as hoarding are getting a lot of attention. TV shows devoted to the tormented lives of hoarders have hit the scene and certainly, an increase in interest among mental health professionals and the media has surfaced. There are several substantive sociological issues here that go beyond the psychological elements and individual consequences of hoarding behavior – or buying, spending, drinking, gambling – all of which are considered by the American Psychiatric Association to be disorders in and of themselves or at least symptomatic of other disorders such as anxiety or bipolar disorder. Compulsive buying is another example. While not considered to be a disorder of its own, compulsive buying is being considered as such for the new version of DSM to be released in 2013 and is already listed as a symptom of Bipolar disorder. Jennifer Hemler, for instance, in her forthcoming paper, “The Medicalization of Compulsive Shopping: a Sociological Disorder in the Making,” describes how compulsive buying is rooted in much more than psychological disorder or an imbalance of brain chemicals.

If you’ve ever experienced a hoarding home, you know it can be unsettling and even disturbing and that the consequences to people’s social lives and sense of self  and even physical health can be disastrous.  While it is important to know about hoarding as an experience, it is crucial for sociologists and other social scientists to focus, in addition, on several questions: When does one become a so-called hoarder – i.e. what’s the line between messy and hoarding? Another question of importance is whether hoarding should be considered a symptom or consequence of anxiety, as the article below from NPR suggests. Or, is it really the other end of the spectrum from something like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an anxiety disorder? And finally, the subject of my inquiry today: when we’re talking about disorders like hoarding or compulsive buying, another disorder involving the collecting of items, usually superfluously, are these not possibly disorders that could only take place in a society that so compels us to want stuff and to buy things? Might the presence of stuff  as a comfort – whether it be new items stored in closets, never to be worn or used, or surrounding oneself with used, broken, generally useless items to the point that there is barely any empty space – much more likely be a result of the anxiety about having things, buying things and possessing things that is so central to our consumer society.

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Want An Egg? It’s as Easy as Faxing: Home and Efficiency

The invasion of time saving appliances and convenience food items is nothing new in American kitchens. Sociologically speaking this can (and has been) explained through a variety of theoretical paradigms. This could certainly be understood as an ideal example of Habermas’ notion of the (re)feudalization of the lifeworld, the colonization of the private sphere by the sphere of economy and consumerism. This phenomenon can also be explained through feminist theory as a source of liberation for women in particular, relieved from domestic duties. There is however, another aspect to this that is worth exploring. If we extend Arlie Hochschild’s work on the “Time Bind,” another picture emerges. According to Hochschild, it is not necessarily that our work lives have encroached upon our private/home lives but rather that they have switched places. This reversal sheds light on the fascination with streamlining and making more efficient the everyday tasks of home: poaching an egg, “dry cleaning” at home, instant potatoes. If the verbiage of work has indeed entered the home as she posits, then it is not surprising to see constant innovation and products aimed at making everything at home “easier.” The world of work now has fax machines, digital communication, printers, copiers, scanners, and automated answering systems. In fact, many people in offices even send emails to a co-worker even when their offices may be next to one another. As silly as some of these inventions may seem (see New York Times article below) such as toaster ovens that can simultaneously toast bread and poach an egg or a microwave that can cook omelets and pizza; understood through the lens of Hochschild’s work it makes perfect sense. Home has become a locus of efficiency and productivity a place that must juggle and manage multiple and conflicting demands. The reversal then of home and work has directed consumer-driven attention to make the daily tasks of home, like they did with the daily tasks of work, as easy as the push of a button.

“Honey, I’m Not Home” (discussing Hochschild)

“Kitchen Gadgets Take the Fast Food Mentality into the Home”

The Presentation of Self…in Dating

Eva Illouz, in Cold Intimacies asks us to consider how technology changes notions of the body and of emotions.  One of the forced rearticulations occurs in the realm of the presentation of self.  As Illouz notes, when technology (specifically in the form of the Internet) mediates relationships we are simultaneously displaying our innermost private selves in an extremely public way.  The subjects of our own experiences and author of what we choose to reveal yet increasingly vulnerable to the scrutiny and objectification of others.

New technology enables individuals to do background checks on potential partners, looking into financial status, marriage and divorce histories, and criminal records (see article below).  One of the reasons given to support this technology is the claim that people do not always accurately represent themselves.  While that is certainly true in today’s world of online dating (and has always been true), we need to think about both the consequences of such technology and interrogate whether any representation of self on the Internet is “true.”

The beauty of online self-representation is that individuals can misrepresent themselves, they can omit their negative traits, use catch phrases that may not describe them but garner attention and seem more likely to attract a mate, and can even doctor photos.  Granted that this kind of misrepresentation is distinct from lying about one’s marital status but we do need to take seriously the notion that the presentation of self is always a partial truth.

The background check technology only serves to exacerbate the blurring of public and private, our simultaneous subject-object position, and allows the Internet (and consumerism) to mediate intimate relations.  As Illouz notes, “the Internet radicalizes the demand that one find for oneself the best (economic and psychological) bargain” (Ilouz 2007, 86).

CNN “Is Your Date a ‘Stud’ or a ‘Dud?’ Ask Your Phone”

 

 

The Authentic Fake Meaningful Experience

BerlinStarbucksGateby NickieWild

It’s been over seven years since Naomi Klein published No Logo, which explored the backlash against large multinational corporations. Brand identities such as Nike became increasingly associated with sweatshops instead of what the company wanted everyone to feel when they saw the ever-present “swoosh” logo. Wal-Mart became associated with union busting instead of low prices. Can this phenomenon explain why Starbucks recently “re-branded” one of their Seattle coffee shops with no brand at all?

This move is most likely not caused by bad publicity. Instead, it is another attempt to increase profits through emotional manipulation and paying close attention to cultural meanings. “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” as the new store is known as attempts to evoke the feeling of an independently-owned neighborhood coffee shop, ironically just the type that has become somewhat of a rarity because of being driven out of business by Starbucks itself. They also sell beer, wine, and food items not normally found at the corporate chain.

Simple advertising and promotion has been gradually pushed out of the consumer picture by branding, which involves imbuing the product with a certain meaning with which people identify. Will this move work for Starbucks? HarvardBusiness.org says no, saying the concept is “fundamentally dishonest” and that “because there’s no way a corporate coffee chain can create an authentic neighborhood coffeehouse experience. Your favorite local coffeehouse is the product of someone’s passion, dedication, and probable borderline craziness.” Such attempts at emotional branding may prove to be their own worst enemy, as people grow ever more cynical at corporate attempts to sell back to them what they have themselves taken away.

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square-eyeBranding Consultants as Cultural Intermediaries by Liz Moor

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facebook, the transumer and liquid capitalism

by nathan jurgenson

Zygmunt_Bauman_by_KubikDuring this “great recession” capitalism might become lighter and more liquid while older and more solidified traditions wash away in the flux of unstable markets (potentially an economic “reboot,” similar to Schumpeter’s notion of capitalism as “creative destruction”). Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquidity” thesis about our late-modern world becoming more fluid seems relevant in light of the “transumer” and “virtual commodities”, both having received recent attention.

The transumer (video) is, in part, one who encounters “stuff” temporarily as opposed to accumulating it permanently. Zipcar, Netflix and others mentioned articulate that for many, especially the young and/or wealthy, the physical amassing of “stuff” is unwanted and instead have begun to rent items people once accumulated. “Stuff”, for many, is decreasingly allowed to solidify on our shelves and in our attics, instead flowing in a more liquid and nimble sense through consumers’ lives.

Another article discusses the rise of “virtual goods” -digital commodities such as gifts on Facebook or weapons on World of Warcraft. Again, the trend is towards “lighter” exchange as opposed to the solid and heavier exchange of physical goods. Microsoft was Bauman’s example of “light capitalism”, producing light products such as software, which is, opposed to heavier items such as automobiles, more changeable and disposable. The proliferation of virtual goods also exemplifies this trend.

facebookGoing further, one might wonder if we are seeing a further lightening towards a “weightless capitalism”. Facebook is valued at $10billion because it merely created a template that is editable by its users. While not completely weightless (because Facebook still needs to maintain servers that host the site and the offices of its programmers), the site approaches a sort of weightless capitalism because it outsources the heavy labor to its users. The site is liquid in that it is not solid and fixed, but rather open to, indeed, dependent on, user input. Because consumers of Facebook (i.e., us) are also producing content and value for the site, we are “prosumers” (producers of that which we consume). Is it the case that “weightless capitalism” is “prosumer capitalism”, and Facebook the paradigmatic case? ~nathan

square-eye32 Virtual Goods May Be a Blip

square-eye32 £1.99 - small The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

By nathan jurgenson

In light of the current “great recession” one might argue that capitalism needs to become lighter and more liquid while old solidified traditions wash away in the flux of unstable markets (potentially a “reboot” of the economy, ala Schumpeter’s notion of capitalism as “creative destruction”). Zygmund Bauman’s “liquidity” thesis about our late-modern world becoming more fluid seems relevant in light of two recent New York Times articles highlighting the “transumer” and “virtual commodities”.

The transumer is one who encounters “stuff” temporarily as opposed to accumulating it permanently. ZipCar, Netflix and others mentioned in the article articulate that for many, especially younger folks, the physical amassing of “stuff” is unwanted and instead have begun to rent items people one once accumulated. “Stuff”, for many, is decreasingly allowed to solidify on our shelves or in our attics, but is instead flowing in a more liquid and nimble sense through consumers’ lives.

Another article discusses the rise of virtual goods, that is, digital commodities such as… Again, the trend is towards “lighter” exchange as opposed to the solid and heavier exchange of physical goods. Microsoft was Bauman’s example of “light capitalism”, producing light products (software, as opposed to automobiles, is more changeable and disposable), and the proliferation of virtual goods also exemplifies this trend.

Going further, one might wonder if we are seeing a further lightening, towards a “weightless capitalism”. Facebook is valued in the billions of dollars because it merely created a template that is editable by its users. While not completely weightless (because Facebook still needs to maintain servers that host the site and the offices of its programmers), the site approaches a sort of weightless capitalism because it outsources the heavy labor to its users. The site is liquid in that it is not solid and fixed, but rather open to, indeed, dependent on, user input. Because consumers of Facebook (i.e., us) are also producing content and value for the site, we are “prosumers” (producers of that which we consume). Therefore it might be the case that “weightless capitalism” is “prosumer capitalism”, and Facebook the paradigmatic case. ~nathan

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Who Dreamed a Dream?

YouTube Preview Image

by linanne10

A recent youtube video of one of the performances in the largest British competition show, “Britain’s Got Talent,” have received incalculable viewing frequencies, and the number is still rising. Susan Boyle is the focus of this incident. Her mundane (and to some point, ludicrous) appearance, with her resonant and rich voice made her the new “instant celebrity” (according to a recent New York Times article). Drawing from Alexander’s idea on social performance, a successful performance needs to be authentic. Authenticity here refers to the fusion between social roles and performative scripts. While social roles and performative scripts are embedded in cultural contexts, which provide the resources and structures for performance and reception, where is the possibility for a performance to be successful without following traditional social or cultural scripts? Susan Boyle’s performance could serve as an example with two folds of meanings. First, her “social role” as a 47 year-old, unmarried, unemployed women who mostly sang at the local church could hardly fit the expectation of fulfilling scripts that are assigned to “singers” or “performers.” Her “role” in this sense is in conflict with the “script” that she attempts to take on. On the other hand, her following performance fits neatly with the role as a singer, overwriting the “role” for a successful performance, as well as re-writing the script for a 47 year-old, unmarried, unemployed women.

What might be interesting to discuss here, is the audiences consumption of performance. Performances which fuse “roles” and “scripts” could be successful, but remains only as being “successful.” Performances which the “roles” and “scripts” are in conflict and could re-write each other, could be “shockingly” successful. This could be a chance to see social change that disturbs “roles” and “scripts.” However, this incident could also be recognized as a consuming pattern in a society where audience crave “shock” and “excitement.”

square-eye19 New York Times: Unlikely singer is your youtube sensation

square-eye19 Popular music cultures, media and youth consumption

George Ritzer Guest Post: Are Today’s Globalized Cathedrals of Consumption Tomorrow’s Global Dinosaurs?

By: George Ritzer

Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland

bloomingtonmn_mallofamericainterior1

A decade ago I wrote a book dealing with what I called the “cathedrals of consumption”. These are consumption settings that had, in the main, come into existence in the United States in the post-WWII era. Of particular interest were the most grandiose of these consumption settings including major indoor shopping malls, mega-malls (e.g. Mall of America), theme parks (especially Disneyland and Disney World), cruise ships, and above all the themed casino-hotels that came to dominate the Las Vegas Strip. In the last several decades these cathedrals of consumption became increasingly ubiquitous and predominant not only throughout the United States, but also globally. This is particularly clear in and around the booming economies of China and the Arabian Peninsula, but similar developments are taking place in many other places in the world (e.g. Singapore, Philippines, etc.). Dubai began creating its three Palm Islands to be dominated by mega-hotels like the Atlantis (a clone of a hotel of the same name in the Bahamas), the first of nearly a dozen hotel-condominiums to be built on Palm Jumeirah, the first of the islands to be completed. Dubai will also have many shopping malls associated with this development; there is, as yet, no plan, to build a Disneyland there.

This essay is devoted to the fate of the cathedrals of consumption globally in the “Great Recession” that began in late 2007. It is difficult to feel as much sympathy for the plight of hyperconsumers and the grand cathedrals of consumption as, for example, those who have lost their jobs and seen their pension funds decline precipitously. Nonetheless, there is an important story to be told here and it is one that will have negative implications for large numbers of people, including more sympathetic figures such as those throughout the world who are losing, and will lose, their jobs (in construction, as dealers, as hotel workers, etc.) associated in various ways with hyperconsumption and the cathedrals of consumption.

The grand narrative here involves a series of changes in consumption that began mainly in the United States after the Second World War and gained increasing momentum over the next 60-plus years. Over this period of time these changes became increasingly global. When the window of opportunity for these developments slammed shut beginning in late 2007, many projects were stopped in their tracks and the trend toward increasing hyperconsumption and ever more, and more spectacular, cathedrals of consumption was aborted. In terms of the cathedrals of consumption, while this was true of some ongoing projects in the U.S., it is especially true in other places in the world which are being especially hard hit by the current recession. The cathedrals of consumption that seemed to so many to be a bright symbol of the future of the global economy in general, and consumption more particularly, now increasingly seem like dinosaurs, relics from a previous epoch that is not likely to return, at least in anything approaching the form it reached in the first decade of the 21st century.

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