Monday, June 15, 2009

Marx and "reification"

I recently finished "iPod and Philosophy" edited by D.E. Wittkower, and an article by Peter D. Schaefer in that book mentioned Marx's idea of "reification," or verdinglichung, which translates to "thingification."

That refers to the ways in which the all-powerful market reduces workers to quantifiable "labor" hours, stripping away all individuality, while simultaneously giving human qualities to the manufactured products, such as iPhones or iPods, whatever gadgets that people tend to love as much as living things (and this iPod book is over the top in its love for Apple gear). This anthropomorphication seems funny or cute on the surface but disturbing in its transference of humanity.

Look at this current Honda commercial, for example, which treats a car like a beloved pet:

Or this Zagg commercial for the Invisible Shield to protect an iPhone, like a loved one:

Marx, at least according to Schaefer's interpretation, demonstrates how the system makes us forget -- or not care about -- the actual work and costs of all sorts that go into a product, from its manufacturing and transportation to its environmental and human impacts. It's really not all about the bottom line, if it takes a person in India a full day of labor to create it and dozens of trees and a bucket of pollution to ship it. The principle of exchange, Schaefer writes, means that every commodity can be reduced to its monetary worth while being disconnected from the human factors involved in its creation. That, I think, leads to some bad decisions by consumers -- who are often unwitting or unaware -- while hard-core capitalists reap the rewards of this ignorance / egocentric behavior.

1 comment:

Rich said...

Very good connection here to the Marxist perspective of blobjects. And, so true. We put our lives into our phones; they become mobile dataprocessors that, if damaged, can provide a serious dent to our lives. We're becoming much more cyborgian in how we use and relate to technology. They are appendages. When I broke my iPhone and waited for a replacement, I felt a sense of loss and disconnectedness. "My arm is complete again," I'd say when iPhone returned.