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Posts Tagged ‘economics’

Cashing Out

March 8, 2014 Leave a comment

A fascinating discussion on transactions takes place in this EconTalk podcast from 2007. In it Viviana Zelizer discusses the confounded relationship we have with ‘intimacy’ and ‘money’. She observes that society sees these as distinct cultural norms and strives to keep them separate.

How does money taint experience? Are there moments when a cash equivalent is simply rude?  Attend a dinner party and choose to give your host a $20 bill “I know you wanted wine, but this is so much better.” Say a neighbor learns of another community member being ill. Coming to her door, she offers chicken soup and says, “I hope this kills the sickness.” Does the neighbor offer cash?” When does rudeness make its entrance? 

Money makes things murky. We pay for food from the grocery but never at family holidays. Is the fastest way to ruin Thanksgiving the act of leaving $10 on the table. “This isn’t a restaurant”, this hose might say. And yet both restaurant and family meals involve the consumption of food. In both situations another space is used. Wherein lies the difference?

Relationships are key. In family dinners the introduction of money symbolizes a misunderstanding of the transaction. Money is not working here: the family meal is one in which emotion is transacted. “I care for you so this is free.” Our grocer does not “care for us” in this sense: their business is dependent on our money to continue in its function.

What role does money play in human life? With currency we exchange one thing for another. The bottle of water is a dollar. Exchange your dollar for the water and the transaction takes place. Economies function on these most basic actions. And yet, despite this seemingly simplistic action we manage to complicate the issue. Perhaps it is because these transactions are so cold and simple that introducing them into intimate relationships spell trouble. The payment of cash is one without emotion. I want it so I give it. What function does money play? Often its a symbol of indifference that, divorced of our emotion, works to get to what we want without the murky work of feelings.

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Title Tales

January 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Legitimacy is a difficult nut to crack. “Too legit to quit”? Then your skills should go unquestioned and success always assumed. To be “successful” is a relative state. In those whose dreams have been accomplished and whose goals achieved it’s easy to assume it was guaranteed. Far harder to consider those whose dreams went unrealized. The successful don’t dream more accurately.

One’s dreams are not another. In the accomplishment of one exists a source of shame for another. Cook a great meal and your status as a chef is established. Lose the butler and the home and the service known for ages and successful meals are more reminders than indulgences.

For many the battle to achieve legitimacy is difficult. Our terms for certain roles in society are vague. What is a musician? Can one be called a writer if he simply scrolls some sentences? Must a writer be published to be considered a writer? These minor details must be defined by the individual. For some the act of writing is enough, while for others publication is foundation. Ultimately each individual must come to define life’s titles as he or she sees fit. Language fails us…again.

Impossible to Luddite

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Technological change comes fast. Consider the number of phone numbers you held in your memory a decade ago. Was it more? How has GPS affected your ability to give directions. Many often respond with “Do you have GPS?” when asked to give directions. Technology changes who we are and how we live.

But what of those who loathe technology and instead desire “good old days”? Is anyone capable of existing in a world divorced of technology? Technology is everywhere and impossible to avoid. From grocery stores to libraries every location in society has been affected by technology. One cannot be a Luddite now.

Perhaps most profound about technological change is this inability to avoid it. We need not own technology to be affected. Pew reported in 2013 that just 56% of Americans have smart phones. What of that 44%- are they floundering alone and lost in their world without a data plan and killer apps? Does the user of the “dumb phone” flounder in a world without GPS and data plans? Of course not. Technological change is inherent and profound.

Known Formerly Known As Known

October 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Popular culture offers two distinct techniques for artists seeking to exist as “alternative identities”. Musicians often do this- creating new characters from which a new style of music can be offered. Perhaps just sneaky marketing, these moves are often less about the music and more about the figure “behind the song.” Whether contemporary music is actually about music remains ripe for debate, but the methods used to advertise music and its makers remain. Ultimately music in popular culture is created and sold by distinct entities whose work to stay relevant involves complicated maneuvers to both maintain and evolve an image. We do not consume music without an awareness of its makers. Songs are linked to artists and albums are collected expressions of these makers.

Madonna and Lady Gaga utilize the first technique of alternative identity. New “personalities” are created and loaded with new types of clothing, makeup and stylings that act to contrast a previous form. Here an image is adjusted. New albums and new songs come packaged with a new type of talent. These artists often disavow a relationship with the previous characters and strive to cast this new creation as something different from the previous form. This is not an evolution on display: a disavowal of older forms suggests a desire to re-appear as relevant and smacks of less artistic notions and more a desperate attempt to re-seize the excitement of debut.

Bob Dylan best evokes the second technique of alternative identity: effusiveness. One never actually exists if the personality conveyed lacks distinct features. Dylan mumbles as he speaks, refuses to answer questions and avoids direct inquiry as much as possible. His albums do vary, but at their core still work towards the classic inspirations of his youth. Though Dylan often changes his appearance, his personality remains constant.

When In Abscence

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

A daily norm of behavior brings one into a routine of appearance and performance. You arrive at your job, do your work and leave for home. This cycle of function works to justify one’s existence. Don’t appear and the cycle is broken.  Suddenly one’s absence provides an opportunity to think again. Don’t appear and a new paradigm opens in your absence. “If he’s never here then do we need him?”

Adjustments take hold and suddenly the adjustments made to accommodate one’s absence become routine. A great hazard comes in simply not showing up. It’s often claimed that “showing up is half the battle” and indeed we can learn quite a bit from this simple phrase. People put a lot of value in the physical appearance of another. While one might be completely useless or even damaging to a situation, the sheer fact that one appears has a power to it. The act of “making an appearance” is one of the most useless, but viable evaluation on our society.

We might consider the very construction of this “making an appearance” phrase. Unpack it to see this verb of “making”. What are we creating when we appear? It is merely a physical existence in an organization? Is it merely a presence or actor playing a role that is developed.

Don’t appear and we learn to question your value. If you go away for a day we learn to work without you. Time’s progression creates a snowball of conundrum when one is not around. Oddly one’s best defense against dismissal is to simply show up. Even if one’s work is completely trivial the mere physical presence allows one to appear to be important. One may be an unused gear or even a detrimental part the machine but simply being part of the engine provides a basis to exist.

Spending Triggers: An Idea

September 14, 2011 1 comment

The best way to inspire consumer spending is to create an online store of government purchased gift cards. Such a store would feature predominantly American companies or multinational corporations whose sales would directly benefit the American economy. Under such a system, the government would create the store and act as middle man between consumer and company. Unlike the earlier stimulus package, which featured checks mailed directly to consumers, this plan would involve each individual being sent a code to order a gift card. Once the card was ordered the site would purchase and mail the card to the consumer. Each card would have an expiration date and if the amount was not used it would return to the bank for another consumer’s use.

This plan would work better than the mailed check format because it denies the consumer the ability to save the money. The online market also has the benefit of being a mini market whereby consumer demand can be maintained. Each gift card recipient has options and can choose which company he or she would like to spend the allotted amount.

Enthusiasm’s Era

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

We live in a time fueled by enthusiasm. Rapid release of beta formats, yearly product updates and endless chains of sequels are just three examples of the ways in which our heightened interests drive us forward. Is the software not working? How should we respond? In the past we’d likely shrug our shoulders and write it off as a sign of a bad product and an error in judgment. Not today though, in our current era we post on a manufacturer’s website, contact the company directly or, if really fired up, launch a mini flame campaign to force a fix.

No longer do we function at a distance from the makers of our toys. We are now closely linked and dictate what we want, how we want it and scream if what we get just doesn’t make the grade.

Networking makes this possible, connecting consumers with creators so that the desires and needs of the end-users can be a crucial dynamic of the design process. In short, companies who produce material for public consumption, whether physical, mental or emotional, are tightly tethered to future users of their products.

This system is not exclusively positive; however, in cases where a product is defective, a manufacturer cannot simply wash its hands of responsibility or issue a major recall for the products. In today’s system of closely tethered relations, a manufacturer’s reaction must come in the form of rapid deployment and extends far beyond the dead-end state of defective. Now a minor bug demands a response and what in earlier eras would be written off as just a bad feature, exists now as an item on a growing list of “bugs” that developers must correct.

Even beyond cases of product faults many manufacturers are expected to provide users with what they hope to see- acting as cyber Santa’s whose latest creation is less about the corporation’s notions of product identity and more about fulfilling the list of demands expressed by a user base. Note a manufacturer’s website for  a discussion board where endless threads exist as virtual Christmas lists for wandering company eyes.

We live now with endless betas and product improvements. Internet Explorer entered the world free from a numeral distinction. IE was IE, it wasn’t IE 6 or 7 or 8 or 9. This development came only as more consumers came on board and explored alternative browsers. One can only assume Microsoft’s intentions for IE in a pre-Chrome and Firefox era, but the program’s slow progression to each major release (in comparison to Firefox and Chrome) suggests a less than interested policy of constant improvement and correction.

Beyond this negative factor a manufacturer does benefit from this close connection to the consumer. Market research now occurs in-house and a population of enthusiastic users can be tapped into to provide product ideas and testing. For many companies the difficult task of improving a product while avoiding a major error that inadvertently reduces use can be avoided with this network of enthusiastic users. In essence, the “in-house” volunteers provide a breadth of services far beyond the stretch of even an employed body of developers. With the investment of cognitive surplus, a body of testers dedicate an immense force to a product and in many ways carry the future of the product on their backs. Dedication and enthusiasm are the power forces that drive this development and are revolutionary in their power. We have not seen this sort of power in previous eras and companies are only starting to recognize its power.

A result of this slow reaction is the growth of third-party developers and small companies. Large companies whose hegemonic rule over the early internet or whose power in the hardware area simply transferred to the online world have been slow to react and as a result suffered significant losses.

In order to fully succeed in our era, a company needs to tap into the enthusiasm of its user base. Consumers have a passion for their products and identify with their gadgets. Companies that recognize this power and support their developing social networks can “use” these individuals to improve product development. Such a relationship benefits both the users and manufacturers. Enthusiasm is a life blood now and working as the fuel of innovation must be recognized as a major driver of the dawning internet hegemony.

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