| drew davidson |
 

Our Computer Identity:

As Constituted by Apple, Microsoft and Prodigy

 

by

Drew Davidson

 

 

 

 

            Technology, specifically computers, is becoming a larger and larger part of our cultural constituted identity.  We are becoming a culture of the cell phone, the lap top computer, the pager.  Depending on your economic situation, you can buy yourself some technological device that keeps you instantly and constantly connected.   Companies are trying to sell technology through these commodified electronic trinkets. Not only can you have a cell phone, you can have one small enough to wear as a necklace.   The competition for a piece of this new technology market is hot and volatile.  This can be seen in the new technology stocks performance; up and down drastically week by week.  Fortunes are made and lost during the course of these weeks.  The trick for the stock market investor to find the next hot product and ride its success to the bank. 

            The trick for the company selling these products is to position the product as the next hip, hot item that the consumer has to have.  To do this, the companies spend large amounts on ad campaigns that give their product an image.  I would argue, in creating an image for the product, the company is constituting an image, or an identity, for the buyer of that product.  To illustrate this, I am going to explore three new print ad campaigns by various computer related companies; Apple, Microsoft, and Prodigy.             With this paper I am going to describe the images and identities these three ad campaigns create and constitute.  All three campaigns are running in a variety of media (radio, TV, internet), but I am sticking to the print versions of these campaign in order to focus my descriptions and critique.  I will also use several theorists to show how constitutive rhetorics work and to show how computers are becoming a larger part of our constituted identity.  Finally, I will critique the constitutive functions of these ad campaigns; explaining why these computer ad campaigns are worth noting and exploring the problems they engender.  In my critique, I will be referring to several VAL (values and lifestyles) groups, that I will explain later in this paper.   

            In looking at the identities constituted in these ads, I will borrow David Bennahum's four tech-ad categories of meaning that he sees in ads today; and man begat metaman, shedding wetware, digital nirvana, and world without borders (46).  "And man begat metaman," is the idea that a merging of humans and technology will make superhumans.  "Shedding wetware," means that we leave our bodies sitting at the computer while our minds go traveling around.  "Digital nirvana," is pushing that cyberspace is the promised land of the future.  "World without borders," means everyone around the world can meet on-line and regional differences no longer matter.

 

Think Different

 

            The new "Think Different" advertising campaign for Apple Computers is constituting a consumer identity for their clientele. The campaign constitutes the identity of the owners of Apple products, specifically the new G3 Power Macintosh computer.  It is an identity that will make people proud to buy the new Macintosh.  Apple is known for using its advertising to represent their computers as a more than just a piece of hardware.  Using a Mac is a lifestyle.   Apple computers have long had a loyal following from their users.  To call some users fanatics would not be too much.  There are countless web pages and there is even an email list called EvangeList for people to post their praises of Macs. 

            A big part of this customer devotion comes from the original Macintosh that was a technological breakthrough in terms of operating system and interface.  It gave the user visual icons in the form of a desktop in which to navigate their computer system.  At the time, the only other widespread option was an IBM-PC compatible running DOS (text-string commands only).  People bought these Macs because they were different.  They were the first computers that were visual and user friendly.  Apple took the time back then to cultivate an image of being the hip alternative to IBM.  They ran the famous "1984" Macintosh commercial, setting up IBM as the enemy and showing themselves to be the feisty underdog.  They were already marketing themselves as the different, cool computer company on the market.  Customers identified with this image.  It became apart of the computer wars.  IBM represented old, clunky computers for the technological dinosaurs of society.  Apple was fresh and funky and opened up a whole new way of using computers. 

            The new campaign builds on the avid user base that is already in place.  This campaign is working in several ways to constitute the customer's identity for them; rhetorically, poetically, and visually.  These ads fit into the tech-ad category of digital nirvana.  They describe Apple's new Macs as a product that will make the world better.  The first ad attached (#1), is an example of their rhetorical argument. This ad has run several times,  full page, on the back page of the New York Times front section.  A very bold, large and expensive ad indeed.  It starts with the headline, "Think Different.  Really Different."  The body of the ad is text interspersed with three images, a chocolate chip cookie, a shopping cart, and a screwdriver, that represent respectively; a very different chip, store and factory.  The text describes the new Power Macs with the PowerPC G3 chips, MAC OS 8, and redesigned architecture.  It opens the doors to the on-line Apple Store.  Customers can now conveniently order from their home computers.  And it discusses their new policy for custom ordering.  A customer can now configure the new computers to fit their individual needs.  This ad lines up the good reasons one should be proud to buy a Macintosh.  It is an argument that Apple is making for their customers to make in defense of their new purchase. 

            Attached ad #2 is an example of their poetic approach.  With pictures and words, it describes a style of people, the crazy ones.  This ad has also run several times, full page, on the back page of the New York Times front section.  Apple is putting a lot of money into this campaign.  Pictures of Albert Einstein, Martha Graham, and astronaut on the moon and others are sprinkled around the poetic lines.  And the text salutes, "The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square hole.  The ones who see things differently."  This ad depicts the new Macs as the tools for these kinds of people.  People who change, invent, imagine, create, make a difference in the world.    An image, a feel of what it's like to be different, think different and make a difference, is evoked by this ad.  It is a seductive appeal to those that already feel that by owning a Mac they are unique. 

            Ad # 3 shows how this campaign visually seduces the consumer as well.  Pictures of Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Picasso etal. are displayed with the caption, "Think Different."  These ads are full page, and have run on the back of magazines like Time and Life.  Again, this shows the financial stake Apple has in these ads. The company needs to start selling these new Macs or there will only be worse problems.  So, these ads are inspirational in their appeal to the reader.  To buy a Mac is to be somewhat like Gandhi (or at least have the potential for being like Gandhi).  The emotional resonance of the person photographed is mixed in these ads with the resonance of the alternative Macintosh user.  The customer feels that they are special because of their choice to buy a Mac.  All three of these ads help to create an identity of difference and uniqueness that the consumer can gain by purchasing a Mac.

 

 

Where do you want to go today?

 

            Microsoft's new ad campaign, "Where do you want to go today?" is aimed at getting people to use the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser for traveling the internet.  Through the Windows operating system software, Bill Gates has been trying to bring standardization to the desktop.  And he has been fairly successful, the majority of computers on the market are running on Windows.  Then the internet came along and grew bigger and faster than anyone predicted.  The internet is presently a massive system of computers connected around the world, allowing for dialogue to happen anywhere and anytime.  It is also a ripe commercial fruit, just waiting to be picked.  Internet Explorer is Microsoft's bid at supplying the software for masses to get on-line. The main competition comes from Netscape, which produces a browser called Netscape Navigator and is currently the largest browser presences on-line. On a quick technical note, Internet Explorer is a piece of software called a browser.  A browser is the program that helps you to see, hear and read what is out there on the web.  So, if everyone uses Internet Explorer like they all use Windows, then Microsoft will have a big say in shaping the future form and content of the web.  One way that Microsoft tried to get more of the market was to make Internet Explorer part of Windows, but Netscape sued and won on the grounds that it was unfair to the competition. So now, Microsoft is giving away Internet Explorer.  It's free piece of software that you can download to your computer, or you can buy it for about $5. Microsoft is losing the monetary profits with the hopes that they will gain more of a controlling presence on-line in the near future.

            The new ad campaign's slogan is a question, "Where do you want to go today?"  The implied answer is that wherever you want to go, Internet Explorer will allow you to get there.  These ads fit into several tech-ad categories of meaning; digital nirvana, shedding wetware and worlds without borders.  You can get on-line and see the whole world with this new technology.  Unlike Apple, Microsoft is not a company in any financial danger.  Instead, it is a company looking to broadening its financial interests and global impact.  Apple needs you think different and buy a Mac, Microsoft wants to give you a free ride on the information superhighway.  Attached ad #4 is part of this new campaign.  These ads run throughout almost every magazine on the newsstand.  Microsoft is putting up big money for this campaign because Gates believes the internet is the next big technological arena. It's a rather simple ad, some overlapping images and text.  There is a young black girl, sitting at a computer, with an overlapping screen shot of a giraffe.  A tinker-toys graphic and the giraffe run into the edge of the page.  The caption, "Wonder Around" encompasses the images, and below is the question, where do you want to go today? with the Microsoft logo.

            This ad is showing the customer how the computer can help a child learn by stretching their imagination and allowing the child to "wonder around."  The image constituted is one of wonder.  The customer wants to go and explore the fantastic world of information and images on-line.  The internet is a world where you can wander by wondering and wonder by wandering.  If we want to be an explorer of this world, and who wouldn't, then Internet Explorer is for us.     

            Attached ad #5 is another example from Microsoft's ad campaign.  These ads run on two pages.  The first page is a picture from a computer screen with an image and a word; POW[E]R with "Animal," the Muppet drummer, M[E] with a man on top of an alpine mountain, FURTH[E]R with a US Olympic long jumper, etc.  The second page shows the "e" logo of Internet Explorer and text telling you about the benefits and joys using the internet with Internet Explorer.  On the first page of ad #5, pow(e)r is the word, and "Animal" is the image.  The second page tells you how Internet Explorer give you the power to control the internet.  You can surf the web the way you want to, because Internet Explorer lets you.  The browser downloads, "all the info you want - and only the info you want -" even when you're not around, so when you come back to your computer, everything you want is already there.  So, if you were not seduced by just wondering around, then you get a more pragmatic appeal.  You get what you want when you use Internet Explorer.  You want to avoid the hassles and reap the rewards of internet's promises.   The customer wants to have power and be powerful.  So, while you do want to wonder around and explore, you want to have the control to go wherever you want to go today.  Internet Explorer will give you that power.

            Microsoft's ad campaign for Internet Explorer is a fair representation of a utopian discourse that surrounds the internet.  This discourse positions the internet as a place in which you can have fantastic adventures.  Like the majority of advertising about the internet, the Microsoft ad proclaims that the web is a world to explore.  This utopian dream of surfing the web - going to places you've never been - talking to people from all over the world -doing things that were not possible before the web - hints that the technology of the internet can bring us our hearts desire.  It is a world full of worlds; from your classroom to the African savanna. You don't have to wish, you can be there, or anywhere. This ad campaign is Microsoft's attempt to position Internet Explorer as the software you use to travel the internet.  With their question, "Where do you want to go today?," Microsoft is allowing the customers to feel that they are self-empowered and can go where they want, when they want.

 

 

The anti-slogan, anti-advertising campaign of Prodigy

 

            The new ad campaign for Prodigy has an interesting feature that marks a new trend in how we value not only the internet, but technological advances in general. Prodigy has been an internet service provider for quite sometime.  It was one of the three initial providers, along with America On-Line and Compuserve, when the internet first began.  Another quick technical note, a company like Prodigy provides a customer with access to the internet.  These companies have huge, fast computers hooked up to the internet and you pay them to log-on from your home to their computers so you can have access to the internet at large.  Prodigy once did a big ad campaign during one of the Superbowls where you could log-on and see your questions answered by the announcers during the broadcast.   But in general, it has slowly loss it's share of the market and lately has been sold and resold. 

            Now, it has resurfaced with this new ad campaign and a strong connection with Microsoft.  Prodigy has struck up a deal with Microsoft.  For some financial support, Prodigy now packages Internet Explorer as part of their customers service (talk about tricky, Microsoft cannot bundle it in their software, but they can give other companies financial incentives to bundle it for them).  What is interesting is that Prodigy's ads are different in tone than the inspirational Apple ads and the utopian Microsoft ads.  This campaign re-values the internet as a tool and not as some ethereal, electronic space.  It does not try to tell you to "think different" or "wonder around."  Instead, it takes a hip, ironic, anti-hype stand about technology, specifically the internet.  As such, it doesn't directly fit into any tech-ad category of meaning, but it does imply a digital nirvana of utility.  You can get what you want on-line, and then get off line and on with your life. 

            The feature I find particularly interesting is that the ad is ridiculing the lingo and attitude found in most dialogue about the internet and in Microsoft's ads.  The majority of discourse about the internet has focused on its almost infinite capabilities, not its limitations.  The Prodigy ad points out the limits of these metaphors and pokes fun at their utopian underpinnings (surf the web, indeed).  After "18 hours looking for a website," you are not happily surfing the web.  You have been sitting at your desk in front of your computer, "working the weekend."  This ad is the only print version of this campaign that I could find (and believe me, I've flipped through a ton of magazines) which shows that Prodigy does not have the money that Apple and especially Microsoft has to blanket the magazines with ads.  It has an oddly cropped picture of grass over which text is layered and then some smaller text is inserted on the white background (with the "e" Internet Explorer logo). The grass implies that "surfing the internet" is a chore like mowing the lawn.  It is not a fun thing you would want to do, like go to the beach and go surfing.  The point of this ad campaign is that the world wide web is not some grand place you go to visit and explore and "surf."  Instead, it should be looked at and used as a tool for finding information.  The ad posits that users really want to just get their info and get on with their day, so that they can actually go surfing.  This ad campaign is pulling the rug out from under the recent utopian discourses that have been used to talk about the internet.  By doing this, it is showing the customer that s/he are too smart to fall for all those sales pitches.  Instead, the customer is seen as intelligent, cynical and pragmatic.  The consumer is too cool to fall for an ad, but will buy the product that gets the job done.

 

 

 

 

Apple, Microsoft and Prodigy

 

            All three of the ad campaigns described above are constituting a consumer identity by playing on issues of our values and lifestyles.  These ad campaigns do not emerge from a vacuum, the companies all hired advertising agencies that did research on the what sort of pitch will sell with the consumers.  Looking at the constituted identity through the sales pitch can give us an idea of who the intended audience is.  In looking at the intended audiences, I am going to employ VALS (values and lifestyles) categories as defined by Kathryn Ploss. Ploss does quantitative research into the demographics, attitudes, consumption patterns, activities, and media usage found in certain VAL groups; such as Sustainer, Emulator and Experiential (4).  These groups all have certain common characteristics that media analysts can then use as they see fit.

            The Apple campaign is constituting a consumer identity of the rebel, the unique person who dances to the beat of his/her own drummer.  A customer who buys a Macintosh is different and wants to make a difference. What is troubling about the identity is that it supposes an elite audience.  The customer has to have enough money to buy these new computers (around $5,000), and, in order to understand the pictures, they have to be cultured and educated enough to recognize the individuals.  Granted, most people will probably recognize Gandhi, but not too many people will recognize a picture of Martha Graham (I, myself, was not %100 sure that it was Martha Graham).   The Apple ads are focused on well-to-do, culturally sophisticated and educated upper-middle to upper class individuals.  The ads seem to be aimed at the VAL groups of Achievers, Experientials and the Socially Conscious.  These are highly educated and financially well-off groups who are not intimidated by technology.  Not only that, all three of these groups buy technologically based products (21).   They are active members of society, they get up and go and do things. 

            As seductive as these ads are to me personally (OK, I own a Mac, and I like it), I find the identity constituted by the ads to be rather disturbing. As Gregory Kallenberg notes, these ads "infect people with the idea that artists, thinkers and activists like Gandhi . . . would use a Macintosh" (6).  The consumer rebel/activist who buys this Macintosh has a pretty good life.  The rebellion is nothing more than a purchase of a piece of hardware.  There is a big difference between leading a country to freedom through non-violent protests, and putting $5,000 on your Visa for your next, new computer.  Apple's new ad campaign's use of cultural icons is similar to the Gap ads for their khakis pants ("Jack Kerouac wore khakis") (6).  The product is being pushed through a loose association with the person pictured.  Jack Kerouac may have worn khakis, but he didn't get them at the Gap.  Gandhi helped to free a country, and he certainly did not use any computer.  Instead of making the audience relate to these people and want to buy a new Mac, Kallenberg feels these ads are alienating and insulting to their demographic audience (6).  So, there is the possibility that this campaign will turn not turn on new customers to Macs, and may even turn off previous owners from buying a Mac again. 

            The Microsoft ad constitutes a consumer identity of the explorer.  The person who uses Internet Explorer wants to go somewhere, anywhere, and can get there with Internet Explorer.  The final frontier is not space, but cyberspace.  The Internet Explorer user can boldly go where they have never been before and "wonder around."    It is a utopian vision of the internet as a place where people can go, learn and explore worlds of wonder.  Once again, these ads presuppose the customer has some money.  Not to buy the program ("for you, it's free") but the customer already has to own a computer with the hardware and software that will get them on-line (at least $1,000).  Another supposition of Microsoft's ads is that the individual who owns this computer is naturally going to want to get on-line and "wonder around."  The customer wants to be a part of the technological boom, and Internet Explorer can take you there. 

            Once again, the customer is fairly well-off, middle to upper-middle class, and thinks that technology can help make his/her life better, more exciting, and more interesting.  Like the Apple campaign, these ads seem to appeal to the VAL groups of Achievers, Experientials and Socially Conscious.   Like I said before, these groups are financially well-off and are inclined to like technology (14-16).   Microsoft's appeal to an explorer will resonate with these groups, they are all active and interesting in doing things (23-25). 

            This is an appealing campaign, people like to think of themselves as explorers on the wild frontier.  My problem with this campaign is that it paints a utopian picture of the internet, and technology in general.  I believe that much of the advertising around computers and technology is hype and empty promises that get the customer involved in some hyper-consumerism.  In order to be a part of this glorious technological world, the customer has to constantly and continually update his/her software and hardware.  Major advances in hardware and software happen about two or three times a year, which causes all kinds of compatibility problems.  You have an old computer that will not run the newest software.  As a customer, you either live with it, upgrade.  The new ad campaign in for Internet Explorer 4.0, version one came out a little over a year ago.  So, this is the fourth version in less than two years.  That's a lot of upgrading.   The internet is not (yet) a great space to explore, it is a good tool to use for research.  The price of keeping up may be too high.  Instead of "wondering around," we may all be stuck with old computers that don't run version 7.0 of Internet Explorer.

            Ironically, Prodigy uses an anti-utopian internet attitude to try and sell you its newest internet technology.  This ironic anti-ad positions the customer as smart enough to know better than to fall for some silly sales pitch.  This type of ironic anti-ad seems to be more prevalent on the airwaves lately.  Another example of this kind of ad are the Sprite commercials.  Sprite is pitched as a drink that will not make you cool.  It has no famous spokesperson.  It is only a drink that will quench your thirst.  Like the Sprite ad, the Prodigy campaign uses a hip, anti-hype attitude to sell you its latest product.  The customer is hip and too cool for school.  This style of ad is a representation of a backlash, a jaded response to earlier ads.  In the case of Sprite, it was a response to the Pepsi/Coke wars with superstars lined up to endorse one drink over the other.  With Prodigy, it is a response to the empty utopian promises made about technology, like the ones made by Microsoft.

            There are two things that are terribly interesting about Prodigy's ads.  First of all, it mocks the type of ad that Microsoft is using, but they bundle Internet Explorer with their service.  So, you may not buy into Microsoft's hype, but if you align yourself with Prodigy, you get Internet Explorer anyway.  There is some very twisted and very good business being done by Microsoft here.  You have to give Microsoft credit, they know how to move in this market.  Two, even if the customer of Prodigy is against all the hype, they need a good computer to get on-line.  For the third time, we see a computer ad campaign appealing to the VAL groups of Achiever, Experiential and Socially Conscious.  The customer is financially stable and smart enough to see the hype in other companies ads. 

            I like Prodigy's new ad campaign.  I think it illustrates a re-evaluation of the internet and technology advancement in general.  Instead of pumping up each new technological advance as the realization of our dreams, these ads show us that the internet is merely a good tool.  One with which we can look up information.  Prodigy seems to be clarifying what the internet is and how we actually use it.  I believe there is a growing backlash to all of these promises that the internet is a world of worlds of wonders.  In reality, we don't "surf the web," we point and click our way through endless websites, looking for information.  It can be boring and frustrating as we work through the weekend.  Prodigy's ironic ads represent a cultural re-evaluation of the internet and technology in general.    There is no there there, no adventures are to be had either.   Instead, we want the technology we purchase to be a useful tool, one that gets the job done so we can get on with our day.  My problem with the Prodigy ads is that they co-opt this discontent to pitch their new product to the masses.  The customer may be less culpable to the seduction of these technological wonders, so a hip anti-hype attitude is used to hook them.  It just goes to show that almost any good idea can be turned into a sales pitch. 

 

 

Constitutive Rhetorics at Work and Play

 

            Anne Norton spends most of her book, Republic of Signs, describing how people "write themselves . . . into being" by constituting themselves through rhetorical artifacts like the Apple ad campaign (3).  We mark ourselves by owning an Apple, using Internet Explorer, and subscribing to Prodigy.  As Jameson notes, there is a "rich personal investment" with these artifacts (138).  WE get invested in the fact that we have and use these artifacts.  Norton notices that, as a culture, we "read what is written in dress, in commodities, in eating" (2).  So, the three advertising campaigns described above show not only how a commodity, like the Apple computer, can become a part of how we mark ourselves as a people, but also how the advertising push behind commodities can have a big influence on what the mark of owning an Apple computer can mean to a consumer.  To buy an Apple computer is to be a "crazy one" who thinks differently.  To use Internet Explorer is to be an explorer who wonders around.  To use Prodigy is to be hip and wise to the hype behind all the lies coming from others companies' ads. 

            Norton states that, "the profusion of consumer goods, of different brands of every good, expands the vocabulary of signs available to those who write themselves upon the world" (52).  Apple has always set itself up against the competition, first it was IBM, then Microsoft and Bill Gates, and now it's Dell Computers and Michael Dell.  These new ads take advantage of this expanse of signs by pitting Apple as different than the rest.  When you buy an Apple, you are part of the special ones, the crazy ones.   An Apple user has written her/himself upon the world as one who wants to change things.  Microsoft has always been about getting to all the people out there.  PC-compatible computers are ubiquitous because they are cheap and becoming easier and easier to use, in large part to Windows.  The new ads of Microsoft make an appeal for a subtle change of feeling about them.  Instead of the evil standard bearer, they are the ones who bring you the world through Internet Explorer.  A person who uses Internet Explorer writes him/herself as one who knows technology can make his/her life better.  S/he is an explorer of cyberspace, enjoying the new technological (r)evolution.  And Prodigy is just trying to regain some of the market by hitching a ride with Microsoft, but pushing themselves as the "hip" alternative to the rest.  A person subscribing to Prodigy is written as a no-nonsense person who is too hip to fall for the lies, and just wants to get what s/he wants and get on with it.

            As Norton illustrates, a constitution of identity is both "individual and collective, uniting public and private constitution " (160).  You buy an Apple and become one of the crazies.  You identify yourself with other Mac owners who bought their Macs because they too are crazy enough to want to try and make a difference.  You become a part of the unique group, those that own Macs and want to change the world.  You use Internet Explorer and you're part of a group of explorers who want to go out and see the world(s) of cyberspace.  You believe that the technology will make our lives better. You want to wonder around and see what there is to see and meet the others out there that are doing the same.  Use Prodigy and you become part of the hip, cool group. None of you fell for the fantastic, but empty, promises from other companies.  You identity with them because all of you realize the internet is a tool for getting what you want and getting on with your day.  

                       

            It is important to notice the constitutive features of rhetorical artifacts in general.  Doing so enables us to better understand people as individuals and collectively. Looking at the connections between public and private constitution will help scholars to better comprehend the connection between mass and vernacular popular culture.  This in turn could help us to better understand how to appeal to the individual through mass culture in order to (hopefully) enact social change.  Exploring the meanings and identity constituted in the Apple, Microsoft and Prodigy ads has helped me relate to my own avid loyalty to the Mac to the larger issues involved in how computers are such a big part of our lives.  Computers are becoming more and more prevalent in our homes and offices.  McLuhan noticed that these emerging technologies are creating new roles for us in society (351).  We are constantly trying to keep up with computers so we can be viably employed.  With this prevalence comes new constituted identities that revolve around what computers and software we may own.  As David S. Bennahum notes, "selling technology . . . isn't just about pushing product.  It's about selling a philosophy" (46).  So, we can look at the ads to see what meanings are being creating around computers.  Meanings that are constituting a part of our identity.  We need to think more about these emerging identities around computers.

            It is worth noting Prodigy's new pragmatic, anti-utopian commercials because they illustrate two recent trends in our culture.  One is a growing dissatisfaction with the empty promises of such technological advances as the internet.  The second is the growing use of ironic anti-ads to sell a product.  The Prodigy ads discuss the internet and the reality of how people actually use it, as opposed to the worlds of wonder that have been described.  This is the start of a backlash to these technological promised lands.  It may be interesting in theory to talk about the endless possibilities of the cutting edge applications of the internet that make it an infinite space of magical places.  In practice, people seem less interested in updating all of their software and hardware every six months or so in order to keep up with, and take advantage of, all of these "advances."  The hyper-consumerism needed to keep up to date is expensive and frustrating.  Not only are you spending money almost constantly, but it really isn't "surfing the web," it's sitting at your desk, pointing and clicking in search of information for way too long.  The Prodigy campaign is one of the first public representations of this backlash.  It doesn't make any grandiose claims to what the technology can do, it merely says it's a tool to use. 

            Even so, computers and technology are already a major, and growing, part of our identity.  As the ever optimist, Timothy Leary notes that we can us computers as "windows on one another's minds" (233).  He may be slightly hyperbolic, but what he says is essentially true, we do not yet know the limits of what we can do with computers. We need to look even more carefully at how people correlate computers into their identities, both individually and collectively.  In looking at computers, Sandy Stone reminds us that "inside the little box are other people" (16).  Computers let us reach out and touch each other with more ease than ever before.  So, we should understand how people in our society are marking themselves in the world with and through technology and their computers.  Because of the prevalence of computers in our lives, they are becoming a larger part of our constituted identities, both individual and collective.  We live in "a technological society in which humans and machines are constantly imploding and the human itself is dramatically mutating" (Kellner, 298).  We need to look more critically at how these technologies are impacting our lives.  They are not only altering our view of the world, but of our perceived identities.  These three ad campaigns are a good example of this identification.  They illustrate the identities of computer users.  We need to understand this identity because it is not only one that many people relate with and have bought a computer for it, but also because they are a part of our culture that lives, breathes, desires, interacts and changes the world around us.  We either change the world to adapt to these new technologies, or we need to change the technologies  themselves to better fit into our world (Latour 292).  Either way, our identities are being changed as a part of this process.  These newly formed identities around computers are playing a larger part in our world. 

 

            The new ad campaigns of Apple, Microsoft and Prodigy amply illustrate a constitutive rhetorical function.  With this paper, I described the different and similar identities constituted through these ads.  Each campaign may be creating a various identities for the consumer, think different, wonder around, and hip, cool, but they all seem to appeal to the same three VAL groups, Achievers, Experientials, and Socially Conscious.  This is the market for technology-based companies; young, educated, well-to-do people who are active in their lifestyles.  I also referred to Norton's, Republic of Signs, to show that the commodity of a computer, and it's advertising campaign, are a constitutive rhetoric in our society.  I ended by explaining that we should pay attention to the identities that are being constituted around and through our computers because computers are playing such a growing role in our lives.  The new technology being pitched by the three companies look to be a great tools, ones that may allow us to change the world, explore cyberspace and get information.  Apple, Microsoft and Prodigy are not only pitching a lifestyle with their new ad campaigns, but the identities of people who choose to live this lifestyle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Bennahum, David S. "On the Download."  Spin 14/1 (Jan. 98): 46.

 

Jameson, Fredric. "Reification and Utopic in Mass Culture." Social Text 1 (1979/80):             130-148.

 

Kallenberg, Gregory.  "'Think Different'? Think Again."  Austin American-Statesman.             XL-ent section (Nov. 27, 97): 6.

 

Kellner, Douglas.  Media Culture.  Routledge, New York, 1995.

 

Latour, Bruno.  Aramis, Or The Love of Technology.  Harvard UP, Cambridge,        1996.

 

Leary, Timothy.  "The Interpersonal, Interactive, Interdimensional Interface."  in The             Art of Human-Computer Interface Design.  ed. Brenda Laurel.  Addison-            Wesley. New York, 1990.

 

McLuhan, Marshall.  Understanding Media.  MIT P, Cambridge, 1995.

 

Norton, Anne.  Republic of Signs: Liberal Theory and American Popular Culture.              Chicago: U. of Chicago P, 1993.

 

Ploss, Kathryn.  "The VALS TYPES, 1987: Demographics, Attitudes, Consumption             Patterns, Activities, and Media Usage."  SMRB (Sept. 87): 1-31.

 

Stone, Allucquere Rosanne.  The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the             Mechanical Age.  MIT P, Cambridge, 1995. 

 

 

 

 


 

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