So, now, the “age of loneliness” is a thing.
What does this have to do with material culture and, for my concern, the study of brands? How did we get here?
The technology of the marketing industry is accelerating quickly.
Jennifer Roberts ties into culture theorist McLuhan’s ideas about technocracy in her essay on the lava lamp. The 1960’s, before the age of ubiquitous technology and advertising, are the setting in which McLuhan “began describing the dehierarchized, free flowing world of information that sophisticated communications technologies were enabling” (Roberts 175). This sounds a lot like the evolved state of information and technology at present day.
The notion of a free flowing world of information has come to be a given in the culture of the “twenty-tens.”
If social media and the inundation of information into people’s lives has a hand in creating this age of loneliness, it would be good to take a look at why people are so attracted to sharing and using social media:
According to Harvard researchers, “Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system,” so, it makes us feel good! That’s a no-brainer (pun intended). But it also makes us feel bad. The same research shows that young people who use social media exhibit high-risk behaviors at an accelerated rate.
A compulsive relationship to technology and media seems to evoke the words of Marx recorded in Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project:
“All the physical and intellectual senses…have been replaced by the simple alienation of all the senses, the sense of having.”
This concept of alienation is especially interesting considering Belk’s ideas of the extended self. Belk’s ideas about virtual brand communities draw an interesting corollary:
Belk states that normally, aggregating one’s sense of self with branded goods usually requires ownership; in the digital world, this aggregation can happen in virtual environment in which the user or consumer can engage brands without having to invest capital, creating a virtual sense of affiliated identity.
When I go out and buy a MacBook at the Apple store, I am buying into the cultural mythology of what Apple offers. If I log in to a website like Pinterest, I can curate all of these interests, and, in a sense, possess them in the digital sense by saving images to my page and creating boards of the things that I like and endorse. Pinterest could surely be responsible for helping brands establish new markets and sell more goods. What happens when virtual appreciation becomes a true craving, the consumer now convinced he/she needs to buy the object to assimilate it into his/her identity, once the sense of wanting overcomes the sense of appreciation?
Here, I reach the crossroads: Belk and Marx present related, but contrasting points of view- does having enhance or alienate the self? I tend to think it’s a paradox– both things are happening in real time– the multifaceted existential concepts of self (Sartre via Kinneavy) could, at once, be at odds with one another within the individual, creating a sense of an enlarged and alienated self.
Dr. Newby-Clark Self-Other Perceptions
What does all of this have to do with brands?