Sociology 304

March 25, 1999

Images of the New Technologies

A. Language of the New Technologies

There are many terms associated with the new technologies. One of the ways in which the new technologies can be understood is by noting how these new technologies are described by users, promoters, and skeptics. These are terms that describe the technologies themselves, and terms that people use to describe some aspects of them and some of their effects. Among the terms are:

Negative language: Unemployment, inequality, isolation, infection and virus.

Microsoft advertisement. Ad showing a teacher talking about students (perhaps grade 6 through 8) using computers in a classroom. Ad ends with the teacher saying, "They used their computers to gain access to information that they could not get in any other way."

From a Microsoft advertisement, WCCO-TV, Channel 10 on Cable Regina, 5:08 p.m., March 21, 1998.

Many of these words and advertisements give a sense of power and compulsion to the new technologies. When reading Stone, note some of the language that is used to describe the structure and effects of these technologies. When reading Kroker, note how he develops other words and uses language to present these technologies in a new light. For example, Kroker talks about abuse value (a play on Marx's use value), data trash (title of book), recline of civilization, and possessed individual (instead of the possessive individual of classical liberalism).

B. High Tech Commercials

1. Introduction. In our society, the images portrayed by commercials provide some idea concerning the manner in which products and services as commodities are generally viewed.

The high tech advertisements used in this class come from three advertisers - AT&T, Chrysler Corporation, and Microsoft. Each has a different approach and application to commercials, and each illustrates a number of features associated with the role of these new technologies in contemporary society. In general, these commercials can be considered to be examples of the claims of the virtual class, and they portray aspects of the direction in which the virtual class wishes society to go.

2. AT&T Advertisements. These provide some examples of what Kroker calls the recombinant commodity. They also illustrate a number of points that Kroker raises concerning the hype and commercialization associated with the virtual class.

a. AT&T. Traces its origins back to Alexander Graham Bell. Bell telephone was established in 1877, and was also closely associated with high finance. It became one of the world's largest companies, at one time owning about 80% of the U.S. telephone industry, and by 1980 had over one million employees. In 1984, there was deregulation in the United States, and AT&T was broken up into several parts. It still had 373,000 employees though and has become one of the largest telecommunications companies. The advertisements show the wide range of services they offer and sell.

b. Analysis. Among the points illustrated in the advertisements:

c. Conclusion on AT&T. Advertisements show ways in which the virtual class is attempting to seduce and draw consumers into virtuality. Those ads emphasize community, family, and human relationships, features which may get lost in modern society, and which are being promised through the new digital technologies. The problems raised by Kroker, and the down side of contemporary society (poverty, unemployment, inequality, lack of jobs, lost human potential, crime) are not mentioned, and the whole set of images attempts to seduce us into forgetting about these problems. Lots of good things happen in cyberspace, so let's get on board.

2. Chrysler Corporation. The two Dodge Intrepid advertisements are primarily aimed at promoting that car. However, these particular commercials use the language and vision of high tech to carry on that promotion. In particular, note three aspects of these commercials:

3. Microsoft. The Microsoft commercials provide a different approach than does AT&T. These are not high pressure advertisements, but instead provide images of normal people, doing normal work activities. In some of the Microsoft commercials, the advantages of high tech solutions are not explicitly provided, but are more implicit.

Note in the first commercial how the only two statements are "If you can do what you love, that's incredible" and "Anybody who says that one person can't make a difference is wrong." These are two cliches that are juxtaposed with various people doing various tasks, sometimes with computers, sometimes with computers only suggested. In the case of the semi-truck, the only computer related aspect appears to be the design on a computer screen

Ideas of power and importance for computer technology stand behind the Microsoft claims. The commercials suggest that with computer or Microsoft solutions, we can do what we love and we can make a difference.

The technologies appear as a means to pursuit of a better life and a better work experience. The commercial opens with a screen T.G.I. Monday - thank God it's Monday, a reversal of the usual expectation that it is Friday that workers look forward to. Here the start of a new work week allows the high tech, and even lower tech (truckers) to do what they want and go where they want. It's open - we can go wherever we want with Microsoft. But in practice, the going there is only virtual in many cases.

The last three commercials are devoted to education. Microsoft appears to have a major push in this direction - to convince educational institutions to move in the direction of providing computers to all students. Microsoft presumably hopes that these computers will have Microsoft Windows, Word, the Microsoft encyclopedia, and other Microsoft programs installed on them.

There is no doubt that educational institutions would be better off if they had fuller access to computers. The cost of these may be considerable though, and this should be weighed against other potential uses for educational funding. Note in the first educational commercial how the students initially do not have computers, and then suddenly they are in a different room where they have them.

Among the problem areas are:

4. Conclusion to Commercials. Adopt a critical perspective towards the high tech commercials. These advertisements provide some insight into the claims of the virtual class and into contemporary culture.

Notes from March 25, 1999. Last edited on April 1, 1999.

Return to Sociology 304, Winter, 1999.