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Marginal Utility
Image: Marginal Utility
When shopping nirvana shrivels away like the mega mall growing incrementally smaller behind you at the end of a long day, and buyer's remorse begins gnawing at your nerves, and you begin to fret the futility of it all, Rob Horning's blog, "Marginal Utility", steps in to stimulate your woefully neglected neocortex. Read, laugh, weep, but above all: realize. You'll feel smarter again in no time.

Thursday, July 1 2010

The Future of Intimacy Is But a Text Message Away

One can't comfortably opt out of a social medium that has become part of everyone's standard reality, if you want to stay in their social sphere. With that in mind, I finally bought a cell phone.


Thursday, April 22 2010

Neurocriticism and Neurocapitalism

The cutting-edge of literary studies uses brain scans and evolutionary psychology to fashion a science of reading, but these techniques have already been at work crafting the latest and most invasive phase of capitalism.


Thursday, February 18 2010

The Digital Surplus and Its Enemies

While we are building identity in social networks, our online behavior generates a plenitude of information, meanings and content that constitutes a "cognitive surplus" generated by the "hive mind".


Thursday, January 21 2010

Designing Consent

Industrial design aspires to the commanding heights of consumer society, building its policy prescriptions and dogmatic assumptions about what makes us happy directly into the objects available to us.


Sunday, October 4 2009

Sharing: The New Imposition

Twitter is less about disseminating information than it is about subjects trying to make themselves feel more real, ontologically speaking, in a increasingly mediated world.


Sunday, August 9 2009

Your Brain is the New Factory Floor

"[M]ore and more, 'production' -- that word my fellow economists have worked over for generations -- has become interior to the human mind rather than set on a factory floor..."


Wednesday, May 20 2009

The Myth of the Rational Market

How silly we were to believe that investors always acted with predictable rapacity and efficiency.


Thursday, March 26 2009

Panic! The Story of Modern Financial Insanity

In a sense, panic is an imprecise word to describe the emotion of financial crashes; paranoia better suits.


Wednesday, February 4 2009

Doomed to Dilettantism

Information has never been easier to come by, yet it's never been harder to turn information into knowledge.


Thursday, January 8 2009

Depression Modern

Americans can't afford to spend like they used to, but is frugal living ever really going to become trendy?


Wednesday, October 1 2008

The Database of Self

Technology's ability to digitize everything threatens to reduce curiosity to trivia collecting and our sense of self to TK.


Thursday, July 24 2008

Brand Evangelists

Companies would like product placements in our personal narratives, and marketers are eager to show them how it can be done.


Thursday, May 29 2008

Hurray for Hype

Enjoying popular culture is necessarily a social experience; hype supplies the ground rules.


Thursday, April 3 2008

Renters: Enemies of the Ownership Society

In light of the recently burst housing bubble and the resulting inflation, this renter is having a hard time maintaining sympathy for borrowers who went in over their heads, buying homes with far more space than needed.


Monday, January 28 2008

The Design Imperative

No longer a prole with a dirty toilet, thanks to that fancy toiletbrush in hand, one becomes a fledgling design critic and a curator of the tastefully appointed museum that used to be a one-bedroom apartment.


Thursday, January 17 2008

The Attention of Last Resort

Instead of promoting the sharing of ideas and opinions among friends, social networking sites promote posturing and marketing, friendship as spectatorship, surveillance, and imitation, and give us the attention we crave.


Thursday, December 6 2007

Paul Krugman’s ‘The Conscience of a Liberal’

Krugman may be hoping to discredit the very label conservative, so that it could be used as a cudgel the way liberal had been used by the Limbaughs of the world the past few decades.


Monday, November 19 2007

Financial Fantasies

What truly moves markets is a mystery, but what moves humans to participate is pure fantasy.


Thursday, October 18 2007

Inevitable Consumption

Was the housing bubble symptomatic of the infantile mentality that Benjamin Barber, in his recent book, insists that shopping-mad Americans have had foisted upon their selves? Or is there a different lesson to draw?


Thursday, August 16 2007

Too Many Mirrors

Style is often described paradoxically as an indescribable quality, as something timeless, which is precisely what makes it so useful to the fashion industry.


Thursday, July 12 2007

Elitist Dumpster Divers

Freegans might seem like environmental crusaders, but they parasitically glean the leavings of those they deride, the people who have actually struggled to make a difficult peace with an imperfect economic system.


Thursday, May 17 2007

Disposable Personality

We've grown accustomed to the planned obsolescence of our products; we assuage the continual threat of obsolescence of our personalities by continually changing, refreshing ourselves like an email inbox.


Thursday, March 15 2007

The Pleasures of Propaganda

Animated Soviet Propaganda, a recently released collection of cartoons the Russians commissioned to indoctrinate children with the presumed moral superiority of communism, reminds us how nice it is to have prejudices aroused and confirmed.


Thursday, February 8 2007

The Fear of Success

It seems we've come to believe that it is better to feel like we lost the game than to dare consider that the refs threw it. Such passivity spills over into self-doubt, which further fuels the fear of success.


Thursday, December 14 2006

The Patent Medicine Paradigm

Take this and you'll feel better. Today's branded products work just like the patent medicines of old.


Monday, November 13 2006

Freedom from Choice

Thanks to an ever diversifying market, our consumer choices are supposed to reveal precisely what we prefer. But is all this choice overwhelming our personal preferences and sweeping us up into futile overconsumption?


Sunday, October 8 2006

Virtual Utopia

Utopias we can recognize as such are doomed to failure, forever resigned to fantasy. Is online universe Second Life such a place, where one experiments harmlessly with fantasy, or is it an organic necessity, an inevitable outgrowth of an intolerable present?


Thursday, September 14 2006

Sympathy for the Middleman

Despite mounting debt, it's imperative that we continue to laugh at calls for austerity and conservation, and celebrate those noble marketers that keep us consuming -- whoops, I mean innovating.


Sunday, August 20 2006

Oh, the Tangled Webs We Weave

The apparent escape into the cultural niches available online will eventually lead directly into data-collecting advertisers' traps.


Thursday, July 13 2006

flag Creativity

Like Calvinists who stockpile life's finer things in hopes of shoring up their sense of themselves as elect, hipsters surround themselves with the trappings of creativity and trust that this substantiates their claim to being cool.


Wednesday, June 7 2006

The Underground Empire

Are the outposts of underground culture -- bookstores, record stores, etc. -- places where American curiosity and enthusiasm are kept alive, or places where ingrained snobbery is allowed to snuff it out?


Thursday, May 4 2006

Headphones and Head Space

The quest for a perfect synthesis of public and private existence may lead us to online 'metaverses' where we don't really exist at all.


Wednesday, April 12 2006

The Attention Economy

Amatuer online blogs and MySpace pages give currency to a growing 'attention economy', wherein the most successful have garnered the most flattering friends - and advertisers.


Wednesday, March 8 2006

The Snacks Attack Society

Shopping, cooking, eating, washing dishes... it's all such a time-sucking, distracting chore. Best to wrap it all up in plastic and hurry it along, lest lost time eat at you.


Monday, February 13 2006

Shopping Paranoid

Beware, be wary on your hunt for the perfect (you name it); for you are the hunted.


Monday, January 9 2006

Information Whirlwind

The prestige of sharing an extensive downloaded music library is wearing so thin that it's becomming almost as transparent as that ever-blowing cyber wind.


Tuesday, December 13 2005

Holiday Shopping: The Good Fight

Warriors of Consumption, Black Friday Masses, The Joys of Discretionary Spending, The Privilege of Spending.


Tuesday, November 15 2005

The Usefulness Trap

Removed from the velvet-draped display; torn from the colorful packaging; off the rack and in the closet... it's just not all it seemed to be. The use value falls so short of the hype value of commodities, that actual ownership and use of a thing is disappointing if not disillusioning.


Monday, October 3 2005

The Customer Is Always Wrong

Among other things, customer service is little more than survelliance with a smile. The end of craven customer service could return some dignity to the world of consumption.


Thursday, September 8 2005

Buy Me Beautiful

Thanks to cosmetic surgery, our bodies are now commodities.


Thursday, August 11 2005

The Consumer in the Kitchen

Nixon and Khrushchev's kitchen debate taught Americans that our citizenry is 'free'-- to shop.


Friday, July 8 2005

The “Me” Syndrome

Marginal Utility -- The 'Me' Syndrome -- The glamorization of the rich inner life is the primary achievement of the culture industry, since what it sells is the kind of ripe fantasy that only one with a rich inner life would prefer to actual living.


Monday, June 13 2005

Inefficient Intimacy

Pornography simplifies sex by making it a commodity. In the desire to accumulate more, intimacy is irretrievably lost.


Tuesday, May 10 2005

Meters, Purple People Eaters and The Revolution Betrayed

On Taste tracking software; is it an anonymous angel? or something rather sinister?


Wednesday, April 13 2005

In Search of Real Amateurs

Should the majority rule in terms of what art our society makes? Audience-vote-driven entertainment effaces the art being voted on and supplants it with the audience's self-regard, so that it all merely reflects the power the audience feels. Expertise on the subject is irrelevant; being heard and counted among the voters is all that matters.


Wednesday, March 9 2005

Indecent Consumption

Why try to form a labor union at your local Wal-Mart when you can strike an equally seditious blow against the system by jerking off to photos of women in latex underwear? No matter how much we label pornography's users as 'addicts' or 'degenerates' and tout religious values, porn is not an immoral anomaly; it's a capitalist inevitability.


Wednesday, January 26 2005

An Etiology of Boredom

In a land of plenty, the commodity of respect -- the sense of being socially recognized -- continues to be rationed, rendered scarce.


Wednesday, January 5 2005

Traveling the Public/Private Divide

Portable entertainment and communication technology has obliterated the distinction between public and private spaces, and the inconsiderateness that accompanies these devices is fast becoming the public status quo, which drives more people to tune out, hastening the spiral toward complete incivility.


Wednesday, December 1 2004

Celebrities and the Barnum Effect

Ah, the shine of a pretty new thing, the clever ploy of its packaging. We enjoy the fantasy that such things arouse, and then, when shoddy reality sets in, we tip our caps to the ingenuity by which we were led to indulge the fantasy.


Wednesday, November 3 2004

Thrift Store Gentry

The thrift store shopper needs to turn a misfortune into a virtue; that of the conscientious non-conformist.


Wednesday, October 6 2004

Convenience and the Cost of Free Music

Horning is not sure if he should admire those who maintain a personal ethical code and refrain from downloading free music -- a function the record industry has enabled -- or despise them for holding back the revolution.


Wednesday, September 15 2004

We’re All Walking Sandwich Boards, These Days

Perhaps people seem so much like ads because ads now make up the only universally acknowledged public discourse; ads are the only kind of communication now accepted in public space.


Thursday, August 12 2004

The New Sumptuary Laws for Modern-day Subjects

Now that the unwashed masses can afford dry cleaning, ads must teach the non-elite that freedom 'from' want is really just the freedom 'to' want.


Wednesday, July 14 2004

The Mystery of Consumer Demand, or Personality as Inventory

Theories about consumers have change over the years, as they should. These days, we see ourselves as the sum total of the things we possess, as opposed to the sum total of things we have experienced.


Wednesday, June 16 2004

The Myth of the Rebel Consumer

One can use the thrift store purchase of a Herb Alpert record to express dismay at the current state of the music industry, and use the coffee grinder at home to thumb one's nose at Starbucks and somehow feel righteous about such seemingly savvy shopping methods. But expressing one's politics through what one buys is no politics at all; at best it is but a vote of assent for the existing economic arrangements.


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