“Gadgets of Desire”

In the November 2011 Atlantic, under the section called “The Conversation,” a/k/a Letters to the Editor, is this. It has nothing to do with law but corroborates a point I made in my November 7 piece, “Discovery and the smoking gun,” which was about law, i.e., a lawsuit against Apple:

In September, Rob Walker wrote that our gadgets can’t wear out fast enough (“Replacement Therapy”), noting that makers of iPods, Kindles, and the like are not forcing obsolescence on consumers—instead, this “progress” is something consumers demand.

While the market may give us “exactly what we want,” we would be ill-advised to dismiss the power of the market to shape the desires it so readily satisfies. Mr. Walker writes as if the desire for the latest gadget were natural, and thus in no need of explanation. That some people would happily keep their functioning and functional devices indefinitely ought to encourage exploration into the origins of the “demand” for “progress” defined as the appearance, and subsequent purchase, of one marginally superior device after another.

I suspect we may find that the market, and its marketers, are as adept at the fabrication of desire as they are at the manufacturing of the devices that are the putative objects of desire. The devices, after all, are no longer merely tools; they are gadgets of status and identity, with which consumers form affective bonds. The fact that obsolescence is now a “demand-side phenomenon” may not indicate the end of supply-side tactics; rather, it may just as easily signal their triumph. — L.M. Sacasa, Winter Park, Fla.



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