The final frontier of consumerism

by Rob Horning

12 September 2005


Ordinarily Lee Gomes, who writes The Wall Street Journal‘s Portals column, is a pied piper for techology, reporting enthusiastically in a positivist vein on whatever gadgetry the electronics and communications industry dredge up. But he seemed a bit irritable in today’s column, titled “How Many Gadgets Do You Have to Carry to Shop Nonstop?” in which he lashes out at consumers of ringtones and iPods, dubbing them hopeless shopping addicts hooked on immediate gratification and brands, and the iPod itself, which he sees as the greatest enabler of piracy since Napster. He goes so far as to call the cell phone the “final frontier of consumerism”— the market’s invasion of personal space can go no further. With a cell phone, one is theoretically always shopping.

His main contention is that the new iPod cellphone is irrelevant because it doesn’t provide what consumers expect, the ability to use the phone to buy, store, and play the music without the need for a computer to facilitate. This way you could have a whim to hear “Midnight at the Oasis” and own it a few moments later, before you return to your senses. What is so surprising about this is that Gomes basically admits that technology is driven not by the unrelenting march of humankind toward their ultimate utopian destiny but by comsumer frivolity and the pursuit of new frontiers of self-branding. He seems on the verge of admiting the gadget consolidation serves no good purpose at all; technology now fosters instead narcissism and waste rather than enlarged personal potential. If even he recognizes it, could we be nearing a turning point?

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