Technology and fashion

by Rob Horning

27 September 2005


Not to sound like a Luddite or a Devo record, but it seems that a lot technology serves the function of introducing choice in arenas previously ruled by necessity, for its own sake—it has allowed us to have greater choice in what and when we eat, where we live and work, how and when we communicate and so on. Before, many of those things were dictated to us by circumstances that were beyond our control. So it’s common to assume that technology enhances our individual freedom by affording us more choice. But freedom shouldn’t be conflated with choice. Most choices our society offers are meaningless in terms of utility while being afforded all sorts of arbitrary social significance. Once things are governed by choice, they are also subject to the cycles of fashion. Once you can choose, your choice is held as a status signifier, and that aspect of the choice eradicates any pleasure the sheer act of choosing from personal whim might have provided. Technology thus serves to make goods positional. The freedom reveals itself as a new kind of constraint, a new influx of anxiety, a new way for society’s predilections to infiltrate your defenses. Only relentless consumerist propanganda from the advertising industry allows us to mistake it for liberty. Technology is basically a kind of branding, creating fashion dilemmas where there once weren’t any. The diversity made possible by technology is immediately circumscribed by a more pernicious kind of necessity, worse because we submit to it voluntarily.

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