It is clear to most people in the western world that technology is now quotidian, normal, and useful in some way. However, it is important to recognise an advance in technology isn’t harmless fun that only pays homage to the wonderful minds of today and yesteryear, instead the rapid advance in technology has a lot of economic, social, and cultural connotations, and could do with a political and anthropological analysis. The new NikeFuel (as well as the Google Glass and Apple’s iBeacon) band is an example of how the progress of technology has reached the pinnacle of usefulness and surpassed it swiftly in to the realm of absolute uselessness, and perfectly exemplifies the notion of a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’. This new kind of product symbolises the issues with the exploitative nature of consumerism and how easily one becomes a victim of it as well as just a participant.
This is an era of, what I would like to call, post-necessity. We are witnessing a new technique of consumerism that satisfies consumers’ wants and desires to be an affluent and contemporary citizen of society. Post-necessity consumerism is essentially the complete appropriation of the consumer through appearing as though it is giving all the power to the customer. Companies offer products that are advertised as personal, custom, supposedly tailored, and individual. The Nike Fuelband aims to record every aspect of your active life – “a universal way to measure movement for all kinds of activity…from your morning workout to your big night out.” Essentially one is supposed to always have the Fuelband on so one is always attached to this technology Nike is offering. A large number of people are already obsessive about how many calories are in the food they buy, soon the Nike Fuelband will give people the opportunity to obsess over achieving a certain amount of weight loss in a “night out.” Personal trainers should look forward to becoming night club employees, and the lycra clad middle aged will start turning up to Ministry of Sound and Fabric in search for a good way to lose weight. But will the Nike Fuelband actually help anyone become the person they truly want to be? No, because self-actualization is far more complex than simply achieving a certain amount of calories burnt on a morning run. People should by all means exercise. This is not a critique of people who wish to keep themselves in shape, however it is a critique of how economic and social systems are exploiting, manipulating and controlling this desire to stay healthy.
The Google Glass, although it’s different to the Nike Fuelband in its immediate use, still exemplifies perfectly how technology has led to this new era of post-necessity. Also the Google Glass is similar in that its advertising emphasises subjectivity. These examples show a transition from simply a collaboration of humans and technology to, almost, assimilation of technology and the human. The Google Glass sees for us; the Nike Fuelband looks after our body for us; the iPad makes sure we’ve always got access to others. Is this a harmless, almost utopian (reminiscent of the film “Her”), future for humanity? One could argue that the integration of technology in almost every activity will improve the functioning everyday life as people will be able to share all information about them without any documents undoubtedly saving time, however this will happen at the expense of humaneness. Day to day life will become less complicated but so will humans; there will little room for imagination, subjectivity, and memory. Memory will lose its status as a concept and will become objective and concrete. Sometimes there is beauty in the fractured nature of memory.
Technology has manipulated the concept of time and will further change how we perceive time and memory. Castells, in his book The Rise of the Network Society, concludes that the technological advances of countries (in particular Western countries) has led to a new global economic and social situation that is dominated by who has access to technological know-how and who can use this to become productive and competitive in the global market. As a result there continues to be social consequences that contribute to the existing global North-South divide and dependent development. Another consequence of this is how a “network society” operates in a different temporality. Time and space have been compressed and redefined by technology to the point where now we live in a time where everything is instant and accessible, but also a time where every minute has potential economic value. We live in an age where time is money and wasted time is wasted money. Technologies such as Google Glass and Nike Fuelband contribute to this redefinition of time and space by changing the meaning of existing in a time and space in the present. If one wears the Google Glass one is always connected to other spaces than the one they are in at that moment, and interacting with other people than those who are in their immediate space. This doesn’t only take away the “humaneness” of social interaction; it widens further the gap between those who can afford these technologies, and thus be productive and competitive, and those who cannot.
Castells, Manuel (1996) The Rise of the Network Society. Oxford: Blackwell.