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Journal of Consumer Research, Inc.

Technology/Ideology: How Ideological Fields Influence Consumers Technology Narratives

Author(s): RobertV.Kozinets
Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 34, No. 6 (April 2008), pp. 865-881
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/523289 .
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Technology/Ideology: How Ideological Fields
Influence Consumers Technology Narratives

Through a systematic study of consumer narratives, this article models how tech-
nology ideologies influence consumer-level thought, speech, and action. Applying
critical discourse analysis and articulation theory approaches, a semiotic square
model represents the relations between Techtopian, Green Luddite, Work Machine,
and Techspressive ideological elements in an ideological field. The narratives of
individual consumers move between ideological elements in ways suggested by
the models semantic relations. The results reveal novel aspects of consumers
dynamic relations to technology ideology and invite further investigations of tech-
nology and consumption ideology.

I t is surprising to realize that the wide currency of the

term technologyoriginally referring to systems of com-
plex machines, now stretched to apply to items as diverse
1987; Ellul 1964; Heidegger 1962/1927; Marcuse 1964; Mc-
Luhan 1962; Spengler 1932), as well as on a vast range of
cultural, historical, and psychological features of organi-
as fashion, medicine, and fooddates only to the time of zations and individuals (Castells 1996; Gatignon and Rob-
World War I (Marx 1997). Despite its relative historical ertson 1985; Haraway 1991; Hayles 1999; Marx 1967;
recency and malleability, the notion of science, advanced Mumford 1967; Rogers 1995; Shih and Venkatesh 2004).
technique, and mechanistic precision being built into prod- Considered as a whole, technology studies constitute an im-
ucts and services has become one of the most influential mense field spanning the social sciences. Yet, although we
drivers of contemporary economies and a natural part of know much about the general macrosocial and cultural con-
contemporary consumers experience.1 ditions surrounding technology consumption, we discover
For well over a century, theory addressing technology a surprising gap in our knowledge about the nature and
consumption has traditionally focused on the characteristics processes by which these conditions form into ideologies
of complex objects and actions (Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch and how these ideologies influence consumers thoughts,
narratives, and actions regarding technology.
*Robert V. Kozinets is associate professor of marketing at the Schulich Recently, there has been growing consensus that there is
School of Business, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON, significant explanatory value in specifying the particular cul-
Canada M3J 1P3 (rkozinets@schulich.yorku.ca). The author thanks Craig
Thompson, Daniel Lee Kleinman, Eileen Fischer, Sidney Levy, Jamy Joy,
tural and ideological forms and processes influencing tech-
Alladi Venkatesh, Jay Handelman, Jennifer Chang, Detlev Zwick, John nology adoption and consumption (Best and Kellner 2001;
Sherry, and the members of York Universitys Schulich School group for Borgmann 2000; Mick 2003; Mick and Fournier 1998;
helpful comments. The author also gratefully acknowledges the very help- Thompson 2004). For example, Mick and Fournier (1998)
ful contributions of the Journal of Consumer Research editors, associate
editors, and reviewers.
suggest that our understanding of technology consumption
Technology is, in its anthropological sense of Merleau-Pontys extension must include its meanings and myths (124) and find so-
of self, the use of tools, referring both to the tools and their use. As Nye ciohistory determinative of technology paradoxes and cop-
(2007, 5) notes, it is therefore difficult to imagine human beings as pre- ing strategies (126). Borgmann (2000, 422) considers the
technological. Although they mention the terms openness to nonmaterial
things like laws, Mick and Fournier (1998, 124) focus mainly upon tech-
near-universal, abstract, and dematerialized nature of tech-
nology as complex, engineered machines. Like many other scholars, such as nology consumption and urges researchers to explore the rea-
Heidegger, Ellul (1964, 3) equates technology (or techne) with the totality sons for technologys paradigmatic social appeal. Mick
of efficiency-driven techniques and machines in a society. The terms un- (2003, iiiiv) counsels researchers to adopt an ideological
stable meaning was further complicated in the 1990s when the mass media
and stock market traders used technology as a synonym for computers and view that investigates the nature, role, processes, and con-
information systems (Nye 2007, 1). This article addresses an all-encom- sequences of technology consumption viewed as a func-
passing definition encapsulating, but not limited to, contemporary conceptions tion of consumption ideology. In order to understand the
of high or computer- and information-related technology. natural health marketplace, Thompson (2004) proposes that
David Glen Mick served as guest editor for this article. we need to explore an ideological and mythological set
of discourses related to technology.
Electronically published October 10, 2007
The next step in the investigation of these technology

2007 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. Vol. 34 April 2008

All rights reserved. 0093-5301/2008/3406-0007$10.00

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ideologies is a systematic study of consumers narratives. written speechin theoretical explanations. However, the
A theoretical recognition of the ideological nature of con- term has been used to refer to several distinct social forms.
sumer narratives in general has gained strength (Belk, Ger, So although Holt and Thompson (2004) use the term almost
and Askegaard 2003; Bernthal, Crockett, and Rose 2005; exclusively to refer to the mediated representations of mass
Holt and Thompson 2004; Kozinets 2002; Thompson 2004; culture texts (426), Belk et al. (2003) use it both to refer to
Thompson and Arsel 2004; Thompson and Haytko 1997). the everyday speech and writing acts of consumers as ex-
Notwithstanding this growing recognition, we have very few pressed through their journal entries, interviews, and projec-
empirical studies that systematically explore and document tive data (326) and also to contemporary institutions and
how technology ideologies influence consumer-level action. values such as modernity, capitalism, individuality, and in-
In addition, many studies dichotomize technology ide- dependence (346). Thompson (2004) uses the term to en-
ology, implying that consumers who adopt these ideologies compass mass media discourses (165), mythic discourses
fall into particular categories of either resistant technophobes (165), marketplace discourses (169), as well as consumers
or exuberant technophiles (Borgmann 2000; Ellul 1964; conversational discourses (170). Following Foucauldian
Marx 1967; Mumford 1967; Rogers 1995; Winner 1986). practice, consumer researchers conflate ideological and in-
Alternately, a paradoxical viewpoint of technology sug- stitutional abstractions with their actual representation in mass
gests a more complex viewpoint in which consumers can cultural texts of all kinds and in consumers writing and
simultaneously straddle opposing ideologies (Best and Kell- speech acts.
ner 2001; Mick and Fournier 1998; Thompson 2004). There This article concerns itself with ideology but also with
are very few studies from either of these approaches that its mass cultural and consumer narrative manifestations and
make clear their assumptions about the connections between will, for the sake of clarity, refer to each separately. How-
ideological positions and particular consumer actions. An ever, specifying aspects of ideology and their relationship
empirical study specifically examining these topics offers to mass cultural and consumer narratives (or discourses) is
significant insight. an important theoretical contribution of contemporary crit-
This study takes as its starting point the value of ad- ical discourse analysis (Brown and Yule 1983; Van Dijk
dressing these theoretical lacunae. Acknowledging the vast 1998; Zizek 1989). Poststructuralist, deconstructionist, and
amount of knowledge on the topic, it proposes a model that postmodern critiques of ideology are based upon the sug-
first synthesizes former theory on technology ideology, rig- gestion that a fixation of ideologys meaning is impossible,
orously models its (post)structural fluidity, and finally dem- that meaning has unending fluidity. An influential recent
onstrates the variability of its usage within individuals. The discourse analytic response to this critique holds that a given
model complements and extends prior research by offering ideological field, although never completely stable or fixed,
a model that (1) advances our understanding of ideology in is the result of a montage of heterogeneous floating sig-
general, (2) develops our understanding of technology ide- nifiers being totalized through the intervention of nodal
ology specifically, (3) specifies the nature of technologys points (Zizek 1989, 125). Lacan (1977, 154) suggested the
ideological elements and the relationship between them, and existence of a point de capiton, or quilting point, a semiotic
(4) demonstrates the within-individual variability of the use anchor that retroactively fixes the meaning of whole chains
of these elements in consumer narratives. of signifiers. Blending articulation theory (see Hall 1980;
A combination of critical discourse analysis, semiotics, Kozinets 2001, 7071) with discourse theory, Stavrakakis
and articulation theory has immense potential to augment
(1997, 264) asserts that ideological discourse should be
scholarly understanding of consumption ideologies. The ar-
conceived as an articulation (a chain) of ideological elements
ticle begins with a theoretical overview that untangles the
around a nodal point, a point de capiton (or a family of
often overused terms discourse and ideology, setting
nodal points), such that their identity is modified as a result
them into a rigorous explanatory frame. Synthesizing past
of the articulatory practice (Laclau and Mouffe 1985, 112).
literature examining technology, I then provide a grounded
model that formulates this extant knowledge in a new way. Consumers interpellate the ideology, that is, they assume a
The article proceeds to analyze consumers technology con- subject position from which the ideology gives them a strong
sumption narratives. Implications for increasing our under- sense of personal and social identity. Through acts of in-
standing of technology ideology, meaning, and consumption terpellation, resultant ideological structures influence writ-
close the article. ing or speech as it manifests in mass cultural texts or in
consumers narratives (Laclau and Mouffe 1985; Zizek
1989). Figure 1 represents a model of a particular ideological
TECHNOLOGY IDEOLOGY element, illustrating how the nodal point articulates disparate
concepts or signifiers into a cohesive ideology (yet also
Ideology, Discourse, and Articulation accommodates inner contradiction) and is interpellated by
How can we better understand technology ideology and the consumer. The Techtopian ideology is explicated further
how it operates in consumers narratives and acts? First, we in the following section.
must systematize an ideological understanding of discourse. The following section also specifies a synthetic model of
Consumer culture researchers have increasingly used the term technology ideology that broadens this perspective. Tech-
discoursea word that popularly refers to either oral or nology ideology is represented as a particular ideological

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field constituted as a family of four ideological elements Four Ideological Nodes of Technology
that are themselves anchored by four institutionalized nodal Consumption
points. Bridging this post-poststructuralist perspective with
the structuralism of the semiotic square, the model dem- The semiotic square was developed by Algirdas Greimas
onstrates something novel: the systematic nature of the in- (1987) as a way to analyze the relationships between paired
teractions between these ideological elements. In the model, concepts. The semiotic square maps the logical conjunctions
fluidity and structure interact. Ideological nodes articulate and disjunctions that relate the key semantic features of a text
ideological elements and fix meanings, but the interplay through their polarities (see also Jameson 1972, 2005). In
across the entire ideological field is underdetermined. Based wide use in cultural studies, the semiotic square has been used
upon their own social situation and psychological orientation, less often in consumer research, although it was usefully em-
consumers shift from one ideological element to another in ployed in Flochs (1988) study of hypermarkets, Micks
their speech acts and practices with unexpected flexibility. (1991) conceptualization of monadic gift giving, and Holt

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and Thompsons (2004) study of masculinity. The semiotic its articulation around a family of institutionalized nodal
squares ability to penetrate and enrich apparent binary op- points. These nodal points self-referentially, tautologically,
positions is particularly valuable in a study of technology and performatively specify a particular supreme good, and
ideology because prior theory often conceptualizes the cat- by articulating that good to technology they fulfill the eval-
egory in terms of a paradox (Best and Kellner 2001; Mick uative, institutionalizing function of ideology.
and Fournier 1998; Thompson 2004). As Jameson (2005, 373) The semiotic square in figure 2 is based on a deep reading
notes, the semiotic square depicts paradoxs driving desire of a range of technology-related texts, an analysis of mass
for a kind of impossible synthesis, in which contraries or cultural texts, and an interpretive analysis of consumer data.
contradictions find some ideal solution. This relentless but It represents in its totality the ideological field of technology.
unrealizable desire for semantic resolution drives consumer- There are four interacting ideological elements in the model,
level sensemaking between ideological nodes within the ideo- each centered on an ideological node. I expand the tradi-
logical field of technology. tional semiotic square by providing a description of the
As Zizek (1989) and Stavrakakis (1997) explain, the ideo- Lacanian One (Zizek 1989), the supreme technological
logical node is related both to radical, historical ruptures meaning that anchors the ideological node. Contradictions
that seal meaning onto particular categories of things and are crucial to the theory because the unrealizability of each
to the Lacanian One, a point of predifference that is ideological nodes actual fulfillment fuels the models dy-
interpellated as the lack of a lack, a filling-up that confers namism. Ideological contradictions occur because the One
a sense of supreme meaning. What constitutes technology appears full yet is always lacking; it promises supreme full-
ideology beyond the variation of content and context is thus ness and goodness but tautologically reveals its own lacking

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and impossibility (see Belk et al.s [2003] related exposition measures human progress by technology and assumes that
on Lacanian desire, 329). As an abstract ideological notion moral and social betterment go hand in hand with material
that transcends experience with any particular technological improvement (Wright 2006, 3). In the late twentieth and
thing or event, the field of technology promises fulfillment early twenty-first century, the Techtopian Gospel of Progress
and resolution but is wracked with inner contradictions. has been ubiquitous in the mainstream and business press,
The semiotic square begins with a central binary oppo- expounded and evangelized by a plethora of writers, ana-
sition. Given the centrality of progress within meanings of lysts, politicians, and businesspeople. For example, Hamel
technology, I begin with a basic opposition between the and Prahalad (1994, 321) blanket their advice in utopian
Techtopian ideology that articulates technology as a supreme ideals as they encourage corporations to control the future
good central to the enhancement of communities and so- by constantly searching for, investing in and mastering the
cieties and the Green Luddite ideology that articulates nature technology that will bring unanticipated benefits to human-
and natural ways of living as the supreme good, thus artic- kind (see also Gates 1996).
ulating technology as destructive and harmful. Next, we The quest for scientific and technological progress has
consider the negation of these two polarities that are not also long been tied to the sublimated religious quest for awe,
accounted for in these simple binary oppositions. The ne- morality, goodness, and transcendence (Noble 1999; Nye
gation of technology as social progress is a view that artic- 1994). From steamships to the Hoover Dam to IMAX and
ulates it onto the supreme good of individualistic pleasure, the latest Hollywood special effects, technological wonders
an ideology I term the Techspressive. The negation of a are intimately tied to an ultimate sense of goodness and
technology ideology articulating technology to be unnatural, fullness, a sense of what Nye (1994) calls the American
costly, and destructive is the Work Machine articulation of technological sublimea self-evident emotional reaction
technology as supremely efficient, economical, and produc- to a work of technology whose motion and scale render
tive. Because these ideological elements and nodes each observers speechless before its transcendence of ordinary
have rich historical backgrounds, the semantic mapping can reality.
be only partial. However, in the remainder of this section, Yet, although it remains pervasive and appealing, con-
I detail in turn the nodal points of each ideological element tradictions in the Techtopian ideology arise from its place-
and the complementarities, contrarieties, and relations be- ment of an overtly moral tone and optimistic perspective
tween these elements of the ideological field. over technologys essential amorality and pragmatic inac-
cessibility. Many authors have linked the optimistic values
Techtopian Ideology. The nodal point of the Techto- of the late 1960s social movements in America to high
pian (technologically utopian) ideology is the articulation technology culture and its ideology (Castells 1996; Markoff
of technology with the supreme plenitude of progress. As 2005). The optimistic values are questioned by successive
an ideal, progress is the assumption that a pattern of change generations who see them as hypocritical and deluded. Sim-
exists in the history of mankind . . . that it consists of ilarly, the bloom of the technologically utopian revolu-
irreversible changes in one direction only, and that this di- tionary rose of the 1990s (noticed by writers such as Tom
rection is towards improvement (Pollard 1968, 9). Frank [2000]) waxes and wanes as new technologies emerge
The Techtopian ideology was initially articulated through to overtake old ones, which themselves diffuse and rapidly
the influential utopian writings of what historian Jacques become mundane. The nodal point of technology as progress
Barzun (2000, 11743) terms the early and later eutopians is problematized by various historical negations, disasters,
of the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution periods, re- and insufficiencies linked to technological developments,
spectively. In these periods, philosophers and thinkers such as the tragedies at Hiroshima, Bhopal, and Chernobyl.
sought to understand periods of social change. Through their
works, scientific ideas became articulated onto representa- The Green Luddite Ideology. The Techtopian ideol-
tions of alternative places (such as Sir Thomas Mores 1516 ogy emphasizes the link between social progress and the
classic, Utopia, which coined the term), and thence onto use of technology, yet the actuality of the Machine Age
alternative social systems and future times. Gnostic medi- contains a darker side that deskills craftspeople, debilitates
eval monks furthered the articulation of moral good and traditional ways of life, and despoils the natural environ-
technological development, championing the idea that peo- ment. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the Lud-
ple and societies could be brought to a perfected state dite movementa large, organized anti-industrial mili-
through the proper utilization of science and its tools (Noble tiaacted as a social counterforce that destroyed early
1999). A range of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century phi- textile mills until the British government brutally suppressed
losophersincluding Francis Baconheralded the idea that it (Sale 1996). In the ensuing years, the Luddites and their
social and technological progress are interlinked. social movement have been both lionized and mocked.
The technologically utopian flame was, over the course Nonetheless, the terms Luddite and Neo-Luddite have been
of time, articulated and rearticulated as many others carried used by writers, thinkers, radicals, and activists as ideolog-
it: the progressive left, religious sects, and the prognosti- ical signifiers ever since. Carried and enlivened by the var-
catory subculture of science fiction literature, and corporate ious articulations of the Amish, Quakers, beatniks, hippies,
managers and their entourages (Ross 1991; Segal 1985). downshifters, voluntary simplistics, greens, ecofeminists,
Currently, our globally prevalent technological culture antiglobalizers, and many other collectives, the Luddite ide-

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ology casts technological development as destructive of na- Kellner 2001; Castells 1996; Ellul 1964).2 The nodal point
ture and authentic ways of life. of the Work Machine ideology is the articulation of tech-
Over time, as technology became increasingly interwoven nology with the supreme good of Economic Growth. The
into consumers daily lives, the anti-industry aspects of the Work Machine ideology articulates meanings of industri-
Luddite ideology became increasingly irrelevant to the av- ousness, efficiency, and personal empowerment onto tech-
erage consumer. However, the aspects that emphasized more nology, elevating it into an engine of national, global, in-
environmental- and authenticity-driven values became more dustrial, corporate, and individual worker wealth and
pertinent. The most current articulation, which I term a success. For example, prominent theorist Thorsten Veblen
Green Luddite ideology, focuses on the supreme good of believed that work with machines (specifically factory or
nature and traditional ways and questions and undermines manufacturing work) indoctrinated workers with a skep-
the Techtopian articulation of technological development tical, scientific attitude toward production, creating a
with human social betterment. healthier frame of mind for workers (Stabile 1987, 38).
Edward Abbeys Monkey-Wrench Gang novel is the Similarly, the scientific management work and writing of
Green Luddite ideology in dramatic high relief. Following F. W. Taylor (1911) in America articulated the supreme good
an ideology that casts nature as the supreme good, the book of economic efficiency and productivity onto technology and
describes and justifies techniques for the creative destruc- its proper utilization (see also Howard Scotts Technocratic
tion of the technotyranny, a counter-industrial revolu- movement in American politics of the 1920s and 1930s
tion aimed against the megamachine (Abbey 1975, 167, [Elsner 1966]).
225, 229; Kaczynski 2007). Following this ideology, en- Through industrial and information economies, technol-
vironmental Earth First! activists use monkey-wrenching ogy mastery became the sine qua non of professional am-
tactics to sabotage the industrial machinery of loggers and bition and personal effectiveness. The Work Machine ide-
miners (Manes 1990). Similarly, culture jammers and ology articulates technology onto efficiency, resource
other activists draw on Green Luddite articulations of au- control, productivity, wealth, and successobjectives cen-
thentic human being by authors like Abbey, Neil Postman, tered on economic growth. Yet, as its name implies, the
Naomi Klein, Jerry Mander, and Kalle Lasn and seek to Work Machine ideology is contradictory. As industrial tech-
resurrect traditional ways of life (Kozinets and Handelman nologys influence grew ubiquitous, theorists and other writ-
2004; Rumbo 2002). ers warned of its lasting derogatory effects on society and
Yet, the Green Luddite ideology suffers from its many diminution of the human spirit (Capek 2001/1921; Ellul
stigmatic associations. Articulated with ostensibly thuggish 1964; Heidegger 1962/1927; Mumford 1967; Spengler
and violent historical losers, dire social and environmental 1932). Alongside its golden economic promises, the Work
concerns, out-of-date movements like the hippies, and not- Machine ideology now rings with overtones of enslavement,
so-sexy groups like the Amish, the Green Luddite ideology exploitation, conformity, and a loss of control.
is rank with unrealizable objectives and frustrating futility.
Contending Ideologies. In the ideological field of tech-
Although it provides one of the few ideological positions nology, the Green Luddite and Work Machine elements con-
from which to resist technology consumption, it contains tend. The former values the natural as the standard of good-
stigmatic associations of an unfashionably unpopular mor- ness and considers technology destructive, while the latter
alism, an austere, principled, steeped-in-tradition yet inher- views economic growth as the standard and sees technology
ently dismal and reactionary affair (Kozinets and Handel- as productive. Their counterposition is based on a funda-
man 2004). mental disagreement or a contrariety of standards. Consid-
ered using the Green Luddites natural, Romantic, and tra-
Contending Ideological Elements. As can be seen in ditional Humanist ideological standards, technology is
figure 2, the Techtopian and Green Luddite ideological el- detrimental, but considered against the Work Machines eco-
ements are centrally opposed in the ideological field. The nomic, monetary, productive, standards of achievement, it
former sees technology consumption as an unmitigated so- is beneficial.
cial good, the other as inherently detrimental. This is a con- The Techspressive Ideology. The Techspressive, which
trariety of morality. However, internal contradictions mollify articulates the supreme fulfillment of pleasure onto the cat-
this stark opposition. A strict adherence to either ideological egory of technology, is the most historically recent element
element is problematic. The Techtopian ideology is naive; of technologys ideological field to develop. Key to this de-
the Green Luddite ideology is unrealistic and old-fashioned. velopment has been the rising importance of video games
Both seem didactic and one sided. However, other tech- in Japanese, American, and world cultures. Since the 1970s,
nology ideologies enrich and expand the basic relationship. global youth culture has been increasingly influenced by the
presence and interactivity of video games. Beck and Wade
(2004, 56) argue that video games are a standard part of
The Work Machine Ideology. Modern economicsin
particular, capitalismand technology became ideologically 2
Although Marxists might point out Marxs fascination with technology
united through their coincident development during the In- and its separation from capitalism per se, the recent rise of the term techno-
dustrial Revolution and the ensuing Machine Age (Best and capitalism captures my point (see Suarez-Villa 2000).

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our culture and that there is a game generation with Considering the Past Research in Light of This
technologically influenced characteristics unique from those Model. Past research has tended to study technology con-
that preceded it (Rushkoff 1996; Tapscott 1998). sumption as primarily situated in one of these ideologies
As the speech, texts, and practices surrounding video- (Postman 1993) or, more often, as a polarity between two
gaming in mass culture were articulating an ideology of ideologies. For example, Best and Kellner (2001, 15557)
pleasurable play onto the category of technology, a geek look at the burgeoning array of discourses that characterize
chic was setting the pace in the 1990s, providing techno- media, computer, and biotechnologies (i.e., recent high
logically enabled role models of cutting-edge fashion, en- technologies) and find a stark opposition, a highly con-
tertainment, and art. Whether one was an aspiring visual flicted and dichotomous discourse between a salvific
artist, designer, architect, music composer, or film-maker (or technophilic outlook and a technophobic mind-set that
just a consumer), at some point during the 1990s one dis- sees the technology as our damnation. Thompson (2004,
covered that contemporary self-expression now required the 65) characterizes the American relationship to technology
consumption of digital technology (Murdock, Hartmann, as a Romantic belief in its ability to lead to a divine per-
and Gray 1992; Schau and Gilly 2003). By the mid-1990s fection, yet also Luddite and resistant: a relationship that
technology had become ineluctably interconnected to realms is ambivalent and even schizoid. Emphasizing perfection,
of playful pleasure, as expressed in the popular term for salvation, and other forms of social betterment and con-
new technological gadgetstoysand captured con- trasting them with the fear of technology, both of these
cisely in the titling of Wired Magazines monthly new tech- studies draw mainly from the opposition between Techtopian
nology review section: Fetish. Articulations of youth, and Green Luddite ideologies.
cool, creativity, and fashion form the heart of the Techs- Although they do mention progress and social betterment
pressive ideology. in their investigation, Mick and Fournier (1998, 12425)
However, as with the other technology ideologies, these mainly situate technology meanings between the extremes
apparently supreme plenitudes of meaning reveal their es- of Work Machine freedom, control, and efficiencies in time
sential lacking. Consumers compulsion to self-gratify by and labor, its internal contradictions of dehumanization, and
escaping into dramatically altered digital realities became Green Luddite articulations of environmental and human
the basis for a range of mass culture cautionary tales of lifestyle degradation. Most of their eight paradoxes, such as
technological seduction and dystopian societies such as efficiency-inefficiency, competence-incompetence, and free-
those featured in the ExistenZ and Matrix motion pictures. dom-enslavement, relate almost directly to tensions within
Technologically mediated pleasure, escape, and expression or between these two ideologies.
are evanescent, diversionary, and fleeting. The liberation This synthesis explicitly models what is rarely stated: that
they provide easily turns antisocial, addictive, frivolous, and these ideological elements are related to one another in a
onanistic. As Murdock et al. (1992, 15657) note, Despite connected ideological field and are not mutually exclusive.
its centrality [to computer consumption], games-playing has In particular, the model alerts us that these ideological el-
never quite shaken off the connotations of addiction that ements can coexist within the narratives and experiences of
surrounded the early arcade games. a given individual. The model adds complexity and nuance
to our understanding of the workings of ideology in general
and technology ideology in particular. It achieves this not
Contending Ideologies. Following the second diago- only by aggregating separate ideological elements into a
nal of the model, the Techtopian ideologys emphasis on
wider field but also by explicating their interaction and spec-
the serious pursuit of social goals of progress is absent from
ifying the semantic drivers of that interaction. In the fol-
the Techspressive ideology of personal expression and plea-
lowing section, I illustrate these assertions through an anal-
sure. This contrariety of individualism reveals how social
ysis of the interaction of ideological elements in consumers
goals are absent from the Techspressive ideology, and a
narratives about their technology consumption.
joyful hedonism is absent from the Techtopian ideology.
Work Machine and Techspressive ideologies differ along a
continuum of indulgence, where the Work Machine ideology TECHNOLOGY IDEOLOGIES IN
sees technology consumption from an unemotional, instru- CONSUMER NARRATIVES
mental perspective, while the Techspressive ideology sees
it as a highly pleasurable goal in its own right. With their Methodology and Mode of Analysis
enlightenment and functionalist industrial ideals, both the
Techtopian and the Work Machine ideologies contain a com- Detailed ideographic analysis is key to demonstrating the
plimentary relation to calculative notions of reason, while processes through which these ideologies are deployed. The
the appeal of the Green Luddite and Techspressive ideolo- idiographic depth required of the data is similar to that re-
gies relate to their romantic relations to emotion and passion quired by other studies that have used small, nonrandom sam-
(fear and pleasure, respectively). Techtopian and Green Lud- ples to locate and describe the discursive models deployed
dite views tend to be more socially and collectively oriented, by culture-bearers (Holt and Thompson 2004; Thompson
while Work Machine and Techspressive tend to be more 2004; Thompson and Haytko 1997). Although informed by
individualistic. a range of related research, the findings are presented exclu-

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sively through verbatims drawn from six in-home depth inter- You go in and chitchat with somebody. Thats not real. Put-
views. ting yourself out there in the world is real.
The six informants were recruited through a classified
newspaper advertisement and an e-mail list posting for a Daphne articulates the Green Luddite ideology of nature
study on technology consumption. Informants all lived in and authenticity into her own current life project of dating
a major American metropolitan center, and half of them had and finding a mate. In this light, technology consumption
occupations that directly involved high technology (making is detrimental. It seeks to replace real life in the real world,
the presence of work-related ideologies likelier). They had preventing people from interacting with one another. It un-
an average age of 33 at the time of interview (and thus dermines what Daphne terms the raw intimacies of phys-
tended to be members of a video gameoriented generation). ical contact and being. Our continuing conversation em-
Half are female; half are from non-Western and non-Cau- phasizes rawness and the real, and at one point I
casian families. Interviews were conducted in the infor- counterpose it with Daphnes rational but unenthusiastic ex-
mants homes and ranged from 2 to 3.5 hours in length. All pressions of support for technology elicited by my questions.
interviews were videotaped and later transcribed in their As we wander through her apartment, which has very few
entirety. Informants provided informed consent and were consumer electronics and lacks a home computer, it seems
paid. Technology (in particular, high technology) consump- to me that Daphne is actually avoiding technology in her
tion was the subject of interview questions, projective tasks, life. With increasing emotion, she denies that she feels con-
exposure to print advertisements, and elicitation and obser- flicted:
vation of consumption. Data were combined and analyzed Im in the industry, too, which is a plus. Its what I do all day
using conventional iterative interpretive and hermeneutic long. I try to talk to people to see what kind of projects they
methods. Multiple versions of the proposed ideological are going to have and how we can help them. All day long
model were proposed, challenged, discarded, reformulated, Im trying to sell technology. . . . Im waiting for my financials
and refined. The findings are presented in terms of dynamic to change, and Im sure as it does, so will my technology. If
interactions between the ideological elements of the model I had disposable income, I would have a laptop, and I know
as they are expressed through informants narratives about what I would be using it for. It would be to cut right to the
their technology consumption. mustard to get things done. But then again, I manage time
well. Oh, I dont know if thats reflected in this apartment yet.
I manage things well. [Looks around the room.] Tons of clothes
Contrasting Standards: Moving between Work on one side, crap on the other. [Sighs.] I am actually a very
Machine and Green Luddite Ideologies efficient person, whos been living in a studio for too long and
finally has a one bedroom. So, someday there will be a laptop
At the time of the interview, Daphne is a single, 40- in that corner, and that [pointing to a corner of the living room]
year-old Italian-American salesperson for a marketing com- will be a little entrepreneur thing.
munications company.3 Although Daphne struggles to gain
the skills and knowledge she believes she needs to thrive My questions seem to imply or make salient Daphnes
in an information economy, she feels ambivalent about tech- lack of technology as a deficiency she must defend, arousing
nology, tending to see it as a necessary evil. She reads about some of the inner contradictions that point to an interpellated
the Internet and high technology and has even taken a short Green Luddite identity as odd or out of touch. This shifts
educational course. Relating these, she deploys a Work Ma- to a Work Machine ideology about using technology as a
chine ideology of personal productivity. However, she is rational tool for organizing her life and achieving financial
also cautious about the drawbacks of technology and almost success. Using technology to cut to the mustard to get
immediately directs our conversation into a discussion of things done, to manage time, and to be more efficient
the deficiencies of online dating: point to the Work Machine ideology and bathe Daphne in
a temporary glow of success and status. She ties the purchase
I think as more and more people go online . . . theyve done of technology to her financials, suggesting that she sees
studies about this, this isnt anything new that Im sharing them as a type of investment in herself and sees her future
. . . its [technology is] preventing people from interacting self working from home as a little entrepreneur building
with the world. Picket Fences, did you ever see that show her own fashion design business. She feels strongly about
when it was on years ago? . . . There was a great episode the Green Luddite ideology of technology, seeing technol-
on there one time where there was a judge talking to this ogy undermining relationships and causing her emotional
jury, and he was saying, I dont know what it had to do with pain, reminding her of deficiencies. Yet, her subject position
computers, but he said Computers will never replace the and subsequent evaluative standards shift through the course
true interaction of people. And he was absolutely right. Ab- of the interview, spurred by my questions, her goals, and
solutely right! It will never replace the raw intimacies people her consideration of the ideologies inner contradictions.
have when they meet each other. Never! I mean, Ive never Now, consider the converse story of Betty. Born in
been in a chat room, I cant imagine its that big of a deal. Bombay, Betty is an unmarried, 29-year-old East Indian
software engineer with a background in philosophy and an
Pseudonyms are used to protect informant anonymity. abiding love of the arts. The daughter of a U.S. Air Force

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pilot and his wife, Betty grew up middle class and saw We find a similar pattern in the narrative of Velma.
computer science as a way to fulfill her potential: I had Velma is a 30-year-old, Caucasian, e-business consultant and
studied computer science in the hopes that I would be able former Silicon Valley software programmer. Although her
to get a good job and earn good money and these [things] complex understanding of technology leads to an attitude
will lead to a better life. However, the actuality of work that is somewhat cynical, she still harbors the Techtopian
was disappointing. Last Memorial Day weekend I had to belief that technology will enable great things for humanity.
work from Saturday night to Tuesday night and I worked During her interview, she states I think the global barriers
44 hours in that time because I had to test this feature be- will come down as a result of all this interconnection. This
cause we had to get it ready for this field trial. So its just Techtopian view is complicated when I ask Velma about an
like I wake up, I go to work, I work all day, all night until abstraction, the future of technology. She responds with an
midnight or one oclock, come home, sleep, wake up, and answer that tacks between Work Machine and Green Luddite
do this again. And I did this for three days. ideologies.
Although Betty acknowledges the economic necessity of
Velma: Even though everyone says its supposed to make
her relation with technology, she is embittered and feels
you more productive and lessen the hours, I think it [tech-
exploited by it. Her descriptions of software programming
nology] is actually making the distinction between work and
as forced work for extreme hours doing detailed, demanding
play too soft. So that you are basically expected to work all
tasks are resentful. The inner contradictions of the Work
the time. . . . And intellect workers, thats been the thing
Machine ideology are apparent: technology promises the
for a long time, . . . your work is supposed to be your life,
supreme essential fulfillment of a better life but is in ac-
. . . you also get societys approval thing going.
tuality enslaving, dehumanizing, and unpleasant. Through a
consideration of contrary standards, she moves to a different Interviewer: All right, interesting. What else do you see
ideology. changing?
Bettys home is almost devoid of technology products.
During her interview, she reports: My whole day Im in Velma: Well, surveillance will be more. I think the classrooms
front of the computer. When I come home I dont like to will have cameras in them so the parents can check up and
be in front of the computer. I like to do something else. see that their kids are doing okay. I think the workplace, I
And, actually, at home I dont even have many electronic think youll have one in your office. Or if you have a home
devices, because, for me, I like to live a simple life. Im office, that there will be one there. . . . I mean the level of
surrounded by technology all day, and when I come home privacy that we dont have right now would probably be
shocking to people two generations ahead of us. . . . We
I just want to relax. She links technology, even leisure
basically have no anonymity.
technology such as television or video games, with the ex-
ploitative logics of work. Consequently, the nonconsump- Using the Work Machine ideology, in her interview,
tion of technology becomes relaxation, and, as she puts it Velma repeatedly articulates technology onto labor, to
in another part of the interview, balance. work, to making you more productive and lessening
Betty reports: Technology has pervaded almost every the hours worked. It seems to be, however, through an
facet of our lives. I mean, not just from our working, but abstraction of social influence that she sees technologys
just everywhere. Its crept in, and its like, you know, I double-edged sword, which moves her narrative into the
wonder what are the true things in life? What are the simple dystopian Green Luddite ideology that refers admiringly to
things in life? Has technology invaded these things? I dont past generations and ways of life. Technology links to work,
think it has. I think there are real, pure things and simple work is associated with goal pursuit and fulfillment through
things, like nature, you know? Bettys intentional resistance societys approval thing. As with Benthams renowned
of technologys home invasion summons the Green Lud- panopticon, technology reveals societys internalized self-
dite ideology. To maintain her authenticity, detrimental work disciplinary standards. Through this contradiction of stan-
machines must be kept out. dards, however, we see the tension between technology con-
In Bettys and Daphnes narratives, we see a fluid move- sumption creating a more efficient society and ushering in
ment between Work Machine and Green Luddite ideologies, a nearly totalitarian one. Velmas narrative manages to draw
based upon a consideration of differing standards of personal upon three of the technology ideologies identified in the
fulfillment. For Daphne, the Green Luddite ideology is rel- model but to emphasize the relationship between two of
evant to the romantic standards of real intimacies and mean- them, the Work Machine and the Green Luddite. In the next
ingful relationships, but the Work Machine ideology relates section, we turn to other informants who flexibly alternate
to her own need for efficiency, success, and social stand- between other ideological elements.
ingideologies interpellated into identities. For Betty, the
Work Machine ideologys standards of achievement have Contrasting Perspectives: Moving between
failed to produce a better life for her, and the ideologys Techtopian and Work Machine Ideologies
inner contradictions draw her into alternative standards of
simplicity and balance associated with nature and avoiding Ricky is a 34-year-old, single, college-educated man
technology consumption. who lives in an up-and-coming, recently regentrified urban

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area in a mid-size apartment. Ricky uses technology con- in a way that links Rickys biracial background to utopian
stantly as part of his work as a Web site designer and avidly pursuits and entrepreneurial dreams and to trigger the ideo-
digests high technology business magazines such as Busi- logically and emotionally loaded word hope. As he speaks
ness 2.0, Wired, and Smart Company for information that about harnessing cultural diversity, he is employing a
could help him earn more money. He does not find his work more functional Work Machine articulation. He then relates
intrinsically pleasurable, and he uses the Work Machine ide- this to an understanding of his own social situation as his
ology to talk about it: Programming never really had any ideological stance shifts to equality and greater understand-
sort of fascination for me. . . . I am not a tech head in the ing. Negotiating a self-conscious embarrassment over being
sense that Im not a programmer. Like Betty, Ricky de- ambitious, selfish, and exploitative, on the one hand, and
scribes his actual programming work as dreary. However, being Pollyannaish and naive, on the other hand, he in-
Ricky becomes very animated when discussing his vision termixes the entrepreneurial ambitiousness of an interpel-
of technology and its implications. lated Work Machine identity with the socially conscious
morality and humanity of a Techtopian interpellation.
Interviewer: Where do you think it [technology] is going?
Consider the coexistence of the same two ideologies in
Ricky: You know, this is going to sound kind of Pollyannaish, this narrative by Velma, the e-business consultant, describ-
too, as Im saying it, cause I dont know if Ive ever made ing her time working in Silicon Valley in the 1980s:
utterance of this hope for it before, but what I really look
forward to is a day, probably within the next ten years, when Velma: Back then it was about trying to build something that
the technology becomes so transparent and it is just so well was truly great, and now its about getting rich quick, es-
developed that it can really break down barriers between pecially with my classmates from [business school]. They
cultures and people. And if I really want to chat with someone have a lot of that kind of I need to be a zillionaire gold
in Russia who only speaks Russian, they come up with a real rush kind of mentality. Well, it was never about that before.
time translation software where if Im typing away it appears Interviewer: What was it about? I mean, you said building
in Russian on their little chat screen in real time. Then I can something great.
start trading ideas and doing business, or whatever, with that
person. Velma: I think its a kind of engineering pride. Trying to,
Interviewer: What would you like to see happen? for example, some, a lot of the people I associated with out
in California during that period of time, the early 90s, they
Ricky: Hmm, what would I like to see happen? Well, on a were devotees of Richard Stahlman, who was basically a
personal level, Id like to make a lot of money. [Laughing.] socialist. He was a tremendous programmer. A legend in the
I would like to figure out a way to harness the fact that there field. But he thinks it is wrong for programmers to profit
are all these people from different cultures. Being someone from their programming and that they should . . . basically,
who, um, my father is Filipino, my mother is Irish, so I have that all software should be free. You know hes part of the
a strong sense of the East and West kind of divide. But the free software movement. And that programmers should ba-
fact that they are sort of, well, Im not wearing it now, but sically be paid by some kind of tax, like the, you know, the
I have a yin yang ring that I wear all the time because I feel income tax the government would pay them or something
that it is very symbolic of me as a person, of being sort of like that. . . . Theres this community of programmers all
this product of East and West, male and female, all that kind over the world that would write programs and kind of Stahl-
of stuff, and once they [Eastern consumers] are brought into man and his devotees were kind of the keepers to make sure
the game as equal playing partners, as we are in the West, what is released and what isnt. And a lot of this kind of
the U.S., I would hope thatI havent given it that much snowballed into Linux at one point, and youve probably
thought, to be honestI would hope that there would be heard of that because its made a lot of big news lately, but,
greater understanding between people and we wouldnt have um, we were using Linux a long time ago in my company.
things that happen like the Middle East between the Arabs I never thought anything would come of it, and now I like
and the Jews. shoot myself. I knew those Red Hat guys. Theyre gazil-
lionaires. I mean, but its, thats the type of mentality. The
Rickys utopian hope that technology will break bar-
whole Linux thing started from that. So it totally was not
riers, bringing greater understanding between people, ac-
about getting rich or anything like that.
cords extremely well with the Techtopian ideology. How-
ever, intermixing with this collectivist Techtopian ideology Interviewer: What do you think of that idea that software
is an individualistic Work Machine ideology. When the con- should be free?
versation shifts from a discussion about what will happen
in the world to what Ricky would like to see happen, Rickys Velma: I dont know. I dont think it should be free. I think
own ambition and individualistic orientation become salient. theres a lot of blood, sweat, and tears going into it. And
Initially, Ricky begins this section of the interview by stating generally Im a capitalist. . . . If you actually do it, I think
his individualistic ambition is to make a lot of money (and you should deserve, you deserve something, but as far as the
then he laughs, apparently with some embarrassment). This unfair type, anticompetitive practices that Microsoft epito-
embarrassment seems to invite a personalizing explanation mizes, I think theyre disgraceful, morally, ethically.

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Interviewer: So what does that say about the Internet now? Velmas narrative blends and brings to life the uneasy, in-
herent tensions of Work Machine and Techtopian ideologies.
Velma: I guess its more, its no longer a special place, its
more like a mass market. I guess its got all the problems Contrasting Morality: Moving between Green
that greater society has. Like I was saying, going back to the Luddite and Techspressive Ideologies
whole Code of Conduct of Engineers, you know? Code of
Responsibility which is not to do that type of activity. Um, Above we were introduced to Betty, the programmer who
to produce free software. It was kind of a part of the same worked long hours debugging software. Resisting technol-
type of thing. To not seek commercial gain from somebodys ogy consumption in her home and valorizing the natural,
good will. Betty lives out the Green Luddite ideology. However, she
feels trapped by the social implications of an identity affil-
iated with this ideology, as she expresses here:
Much of Velmas narrative is a tale of Paradise Lost, a
missed opportunity in the world of Internet and software. They just thought I was crazy because I didnt have a TV, I
Her tale mixes two elements. First is a Techtopian ideology didnt have a computer, I didnt have a CD player. And theyre
of social progress, a business-colored interpretation of a like What do you do? And Im like, I go out, you know?
caring and sharing community that typifies a utopian space. . . . I do stuff, you know? I dont just like to sit home and
Second is a Work Machine ideology of personal gain, ef- stare in front of the TV. Thats . . . to me thats not living.
ficiency (engineering pride), and its inner contradiction of I think thats what I mean . . . people have just forgotten
exploitation. The key shift in ideologies seems to occur as how to live. Its like, what has technology done to us? We
Velma evaluates the morality around ideas of technology as have all these toys now, you know, these little gadgets and
a bringer of greatness, that is, key questions of who is gizmos. Now this is starting to consume us, and this is taking
benefiting from technology. Again, like Ricky, she is weight- over our time. And this is what people do. They watch TV,
ing and counterbalancing contrasting perspectives of tech- and they rent DVDs, and they sit in front of their computer
nology as personally beneficial versus socially beneficial. Is all night, and I mean its just totally changed our whole . . .
the power of technology used for self-betterment or for so- I mean the way we live.
cial improvement, for collective or individual gain?
Interpellating these conflicting ideologies, she shifts un- Tapping into the Green Luddite ideology, Bettys narra-
steadily between identifications and related motives. Gen- tive casts most consumers as entranced by toys, gadgets
erally, Im a capitalist, she declares. When she regretfully and gizmos. Technology consumption has negatively af-
says, Now I like shoot myself. I knew those Red Hat guys. fected humanity, changed our whole lifestyle, by render-
Theyre gazillionaires, she seems to be speaking enviously ing us passive, destroying traditions, natural human inter-
of their success. However, she immediately corrects herself actions, and ways of life: people have just forgotten how
with I mean, but its, thats the type of mentality. She is to live. Internalizing this ideology has had profound effects
alternately associating and disassociating with the individ- on Betty. She adopts a type of segregation strategy. A Work
ualist ambition of the Work Machine ideology (which is Machine ideology and attendant consumption govern her
culturally popular) and the altruistic social improvement of work life, and the Green Luddite ideology guides her per-
the Techtopian ideology (which is morally appropriate and sonal life, steering her to particular pursuits.
legitimate and also celebrated). The latter is linked, inter-
estingly, with engineering and her own background as a Betty: When I come home I want to do something else, I
Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate. want to do something different, just, you know, relaxing. Or
It was the collective, utopian ethos that made Californias I go to the gym or go here or just take life easy, doing
Silicon Valley and the early days of the Internet a special something that doesnt involve any technology. . . . I dont
place, whereas now they are mere trivial and profane mass always have to have the latest and greatest thing. Its [tech-
markets. Similar to Veblens (1933/1921) notion of engi- nology is] not that important to me, you know? Its what I
neers valuing productive over pecuniary values (also do. I admit, I did get a Palm Pilot. My brother has one, and
present in Scotts Technocratic Movement), Velma talks he just, hes just in love with his Palm Pilot, and he just
about a collective Code of Conduct of engineers, a Code thinks its the greatest thing, so he convinced me to get one,
of Responsibility that transcends selfish individualist no- so I got one of those. So thats, you know, my only gadget
tions of commercial gain. Rickys forward-looking nar- that I have.
rative found Work Machine opportunities within the Tech- Interviewer: Can you tell me about the Palm Pilot?
topian dream of progress, interpellating selfhood in between
the two ideological subject positions to weave his own vision Betty: Yeah, so, actually its kind of funny. Because my
of personal gain amid increasing global harmony. Velmas brother was always telling me to get one, and I was like I
tale is more regretful and oriented to the lessons of the past, dont wanna get one, I dont wanna get one, I dont really
finding missed Techtopian opportunities for social good ru- need one, and hes like Yeah you should. . . . I was just
ined by greedy Work Machine exploitation. Scolding others trying to, you know, kind of, you know, get into this whole,
for their unfair, disgraceful, immoral lack of ethics, like, technological . . . I dont want to say technological

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craze or anything like that, but everybody has their little Interviewer: [Looking at home computer]. How much do you
gadgets, their cellular phones and their beepers and their, you use it?
know, pagers, and this and that. And I didnt have any of
that. And thats how I decided to get the Palm Pilot. . . . Roger: When I was doing my job search, I was on it a lot.
Its not that its a trend, its something more than a trend to I do use e-mail a lot, I do have a personal e-mail account,
have these gadgets. . . . Its just the idea of them. Theres and I know when I work and get my e-mail account through
like old-fashioned ways, and there are modern ways, and work, Im still going to use my personal e-mail account for
these are the modern ways. The old-fashioned way is to just personal e-mails. Im going to try to not give that address
write everything down and to have your book and to just do out to friends because I would like to keep those worlds
it that way. I feel like Im doing everything the old-fashioned separate. Im pretty computer proficient when it comes to
way. . . . I should be doing something more modern. software packages. I do know Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and
I do have a database on there now. Im trying to get a copy
Bettys Green Luddite ideology ramifies into an identity of Microsoft ACT, which is a much better database program,
with social consequences that she seeks to ameliorate so Id like to have that, but I do probably spend more time,
through a dawning recognition and adoption of the Techs- especially Internet stuff, than I should, but, when I was doing
pressive ideology. In her narrative, the transition between the job search stuff I was on it a lot.
ideological elements is triggered by a discussion of her iden-
tity project. Betty manifests her Luddite independence Interviewer: You say you spend more time on it than you
through emphasizing that technology is unimportant to her, should?
that it is merely occupational, and that she does not desire
the trendy technology items she terms gadgets. Then, with Roger: Yeah, sometimes you get on it, and its hard to get
a seemingly guilty admission and a mention of her brother, off. Its like watching TV, you know? You get mesmerized
she appears to be acknowledging the salience of considering by it. When I first got the Internet access at home, I was on
her wider social image and appearance and to judge it de- it all the time. I was on it constantly. I mean Ive been exposed
ficient. Her narrative moves along a visceral spectrum from to computers and everything, but I was like, okay, I needed
fear to social pain to unfulfilled pleasure, shifting from an it in the job search and stuff like that, and it has made the
interpellated identity that views technology as unpleasant to job search process so much easier, because I didnt have to
one that casts it as pleasurable and social. really send that many resumes out via regular mail, a lot were
Betty does decide, after being urged by her younger sent out via e-mail.
brother, to buy a Palm Pilot PDA and to keep it at work Beginning and ending with pragmatic, work-related mat-
(not at home). She is not, however, using it to be more ters of job searches and customer contact software (the ACT
efficient, which would conform to the Work Machine ide- program for Windows), these parts of Rogers narrative ex-
ology. Divorced from functionality and work, she talks about press an interpellated identity consonant with the Work Ma-
the social craze of adopting new technologies as stylistic chine ideology. The technology consumption represented by
accessories and identity badges. Interpellating a Techspres- his home computer made the job search project much eas-
sive ideology, Betty explains that this is how consumers ier; it made proficiency salient; it was in a separate
now express themselves. This trend, which is more than and apparently more serious world than the domain of
a trend, is how consumers make themselves appear mod- personal e-mails.
ern, up-to-date, and fashionable as opposed to old-fash- Sparked by the moral obligation word should, Roger con-
ioned. Neglected for neglecting her style, Betty didnt fesses a guilty attraction to the pleasurable aspects of tech-
have any of that and had to get into the technological nology. Moving from efficiency concepts and rational com-
zeitgeist. Bettys narrative demonstrates how the Techs- parisons of databases to disclosures of being helplessly
pressives personally transformative properties challenge the hypnotized is a movement from reason to emotion, from
Green Luddite ideology. Through a simple high tech ac- concepts to feelings, from mind to body, from the Work
cessory that she could consume at work (while still main- Machine ideology to that of the Techspressive. Later in the
taining her home as a technology-free zone), Betty could interview, Rogers Internet consumption is linked to sites
exhibit a self that was fashionable, pleasure seeking, and that are erotic and music-oriented in nature. The pleasure
attractive. As it transpires in the interview, her very visible of these images and sounds has a bodily attraction that is
use of the Palm Pilot works its intended magic and changes like TV, in which you get mesmerized. That intoxication
her social world by connecting her in new ways with her spurs an addiction metaphor: like a drug, Roger was on it
brother, her co-workers, and other PDA users she randomly constantly as if helpless to resist. Then, technology use
meets. recalibrates from pleasure to work, fun to serious, playful
to efficientbut I was like, okay, I needed itand he
Contrasting Indulgence: Moving between speaks of more efficient online job searches and resumes
Techspressive and Work Machine Ideologies sent via e-mail. Rogers technology narrative and use ping-
Roger is a single, Caucasian, 32-year-old, college-ed- pong almost effortlessly between the economic motivations
ucated, and unemployed salesman who recently bought a of the Work Machine ideology and the temptation and plea-
home computer. sure of the Techspressive.

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We find a shift between the same two ideological ele- make money as well. . . . Because it makes things more
ments, but in reverse order, in the consumption narrative of efficient, its going to pick up the pace of society, so to speak.
Fred. Fred is a 29-year-old Japanese American manage- Youve already seen, Ive got my laptop for work at home,
ment consultant. Freds Techspressive ideology associates which twenty years ago would have been unthinkable. I mean
technology with play, pleasure, and fun through an ethni- youre at home, youre at home, you know? You dont nec-
cally colored lens of childhood activities, science fiction, essarily want to work. But now, anyone can reach me twenty-
and imagination. In his interview, Fred states the following: four hours a day. . . . I think it is going to put a lot more
pressure on, sort of picking up the pace of your life, in terms
A lot of the Japanese cartoons you see on TV are very sort of of, youll be working a lot more, and then, you know, trying
sci-fi oriented, very high tech, very kind of super-robots and to juggle that with your free time lifestyle, so, um, there
spaceships and that kind of thing. . . . I guess as a kid you could be some negative reactions to it.
always want to make believe. Everything around you is sort
of mundane. I guess thats one of the appeals of cartoons. . . .
Freds movement from Techspressive to Techtopian and
Heres this imaginary world; these are the kinds of things that
then to Work Machine ideologies is spurred by his attention
can happen. Ive got two younger, well, at that time it was just
shifting from the topic of playful indulgence to the serious
one brother, but I think when we would try to play or interact,
adult worlds of work and social concern. Moving from broad
we would try, it was one of those things where we could easily
and ideal social implications to personal, manifest, individ-
create role plays and imaginations, create that you have su-
ual ones, technology is also about businesses making
perpowers and capabilities and that type of thing, so it [tech-
money, which at first seems complementary to easing and
nology images] just sort of blended into our general play, so
improving peoples lives. However, the Work Machine ide-
thats one part of the appeal to it [technology].
ologys inner contradictions enter through a technocratic
logic of making things more efficient and speeding up
Freds narrative associates technology and high tech the pace of society. Instead of making peoples lives easier,
with the sci-fi cartoon world of super-robots and space- Freds narrative turns technology into a form of unpleasant
ships, with play and superpowers. His technology narrative labor exploitation, a previously unthinkable development
dovetails with the Techspressive ideology, finding not only in which productive work time becomes substituted for per-
an awe-inspiring technological sublime to marvel at (Nye sonal, leisure, or free time. Privacy becomes easily in-
1994) but also entrance to a personal and empowering fan- fringed. This is a loss of freedom and control resulting in
tasy world of pleasure. a lot more pressure.
After Fred finishes talking about his youth, I turn to the The loss of control theme is also present in Bettys and
present and ask him, In terms of technology in your life Velmas narratives above. In their narratives, as in Freds,
now, where do you see it? His answer: Ideally, technology the loss of control relates to the internal contradictions of
is always there to make your life easier. You know, one area the Work Machine ideology through a conception of vo-
that would be, again along the convergence line, is that, it cational empowerment turning to overwhelming obligation.
would facilitate a consolidation of everything that I do. And However, this loss of control also links to the Techspressive
what that means is, I have three, I have four or five different ideology through avocations obsessive propensities. This is
phone numbers that I can get reached at. And it would be demonstrated in the narrative of Ricky, the ambitious Web
nice, twenty years down the road, almost like a social se- page designer we met above. In his interview, Ricky ex-
curity number, Id have one identification just because its presses an interpellated Work Machine ideology in his nar-
just not efficient dealing with things this way. I like things ratives of personal efficiency and economic mastery: Ive
to be consolidated. It makes things convenient. As he an- always had sort of a passion for technology in terms of its
swers my questions about the present state of technology in practical application in real peoples lives. One of my gifts
his life, Fred turns to the Techtopian ideal of progress: is that I can explain technology in terms people understand
that technology is always there to make our collective fairly easily, which is why they hire me. . . . So, Im looking
lives easier. He develops the concept of information tech- forward to an expansion over the next year or so, in terms
nology facilitating a consolidation or convergence that of the amount of business my, you know, my kind of cor-
is more convenient, that will help him to efficiently deal poration does, and well see where it goes. Ricky builds
with things, a narrative that also sources the Work Machine on his understanding of technology to build himself as a
nodal point. However, when I probe this Techtopian ide- business or corporation, but he casts it in terms of his
ology, substituting the broader conception of making our own passion for technology.
lives easier for his self-excluding statement that technology Interviewer: Now, lets go back in time a little bit to your
could make your life easier, his narrative changes. It picks youth, and . . .
up the inner contradictions of the Work Machine ideology.
Ricky: [Interrupting] Atari 2600 [laughing].
Interviewer: You said technology is always there to make Interviewer: You and so many others.
our lives easier.
Ricky: Yeah, I was, you know, we were one of the first
Fred: Uh-huh, yeah. Its also an avenue for businesses to families to get it, and you know, those are still great game

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consoles. I wish I still had them. I think I gave them away casts technology as immoral and harmful. Ranging through
to a church or something. . . . It [the Atari video game conceptions of self and society, benefit and harm, Ricky
console] was certainly a social tool. Because my family had comes full circle. His initial ideological position favored the
one, the kids would like to come over. Im sure I parlayed Techtopian view of technology as a socially progressive tool,
that somehow into, you know, friendships and relationships able to bring disparate cultures together and resolve conflicts,
and such. And I dont really have any negative associations and ends with its personal harmfulness and threatening char-
with it other than excitement and always wanting to go to acter. Riding contrarieties of morality, indulgence, and indi-
the store to see if any new cartridges had come in. I mean, vidualism, Rickys interpellated identities and consequently
Im sure kids to this day still do the same thing. constantly shifting consumption narrativesalong with the
other narratives presented heredemonstrate the deployment
Impatient to answer my question, Ricky transitions almost of the ideological field and the dynamism with which it is
immediately from his Work Machine ideology of practical applied.
application and business empowerment into a Techspres-
sive articulation of technology as ludic, pleasurable, and
exciting. The transition between ideological elements is trig- DISCUSSION
gered by my question about his youth. Immediately, Ricky Technology consumption is a complex affair, laden with
and I talk familiarly about the Atari 2600s indulgent pos- history, driven by industry, supported by society. This article
sibilities. He remembers many positive associations, ex- continues the important work of building theory about tech-
citement, anticipation, and a constant drive to learn about nology, consumption, and ideology with a detailed study
and obtain new game cartridges. He parlayed the instantly that offers some answers to the question of how ideology
obvious pleasures of the system, turning it into a social influences consumer narratives. The model proposed in this
tool for attracting friendships. However, this view also article synthesizes and simplifies a vast amount of prior
has a dark side. literature in order to specify the Techtopian, Green Luddite,
Work Machine, and Techspressive ideologies, their histories,
Interviewer: Your eyes light up when you talk about the Atari
and their relationships in an overarching technology ide-
ology field. Consumers experience their interpellation of
Ricky: Well, you know, it was, it was [long pause]. Ive in positions within this field as identities with emotion-laden
the last three, yeah, it was three years ago this year, that, um, value commitments and express them through speaking nar-
I had a diagnosis confirmed, that Id suspected for a while, ratives and other acts.
which is that I have a low-grade variety of ADD [Attention Another contribution to our understanding comes from
Deficit Disorder]. So bells and whistles and electronic gadgets the dynamic ideological model. Many recent research ren-
really capture my imagination [laughing]. . . . People with derings of ideology tend to define it as similar to cultureas
ADD tend to have a higher incidence of addictive personality, systems of meaning that tend to channel and reproduce
because when they find something they really like, be it drugs consumers thoughts and actions so as to defend dominant
or gambling or whatever, they just run it into the ground, interests in societyand proceed to treat particular ideol-
you know? They cant really control themselves. For me with ogies as totalized and static categories (Arnould and Thomp-
the technology addiction, it is something that I kind of have son 2005, 874; Crockett and Wallendorf 2004; Thompson
to watch out for, because I know my tendencies. and Haytko 1997). This research enlivens that perspective.
Consumer culture and modern society are multidimensional,
Ricky pathologizes his relationship with technology. As and at any time they have multifarious players vying for
I probe his evident passion, he describes his technology their own interests (which, even in themselves, can be com-
consumption as compulsive. His ADD causes his addictive plex and contradictory). The model presented in this article
personality, and this addictive personality leads him to lose accommodates these contradictions. It reflects the contention
control. Bells and whistles lead to excitement and plea- of a variety of social interests in a consumption-oriented
sure that is difficult to control. I was racking up 500 ideological field. Through nodal points, it links historical
dollars a month on the Internet because I found it so, well, events with current sociopolitical interests and consumption
it was addicting for me. I was just enthralled with the pos- acts and, through semiotic square relations, it demonstrates
sibilities and meeting people across the country. He also how these inner conflicts result in considerable intersubjec-
admits that he had some problems with Internet pornogra- tive variation.
phy: The adult entertainment aspects of it [the Internet] The dynamism of the model is fueled by internal contra-
sort of fascinated me. For a while, it was just sort of like dictions within and contrasts between the different ideolog-
rediscovering Dads stash in the closet, you know. But now ical elements of the technology ideology field. For example,
it was like an unlimited stash. Rickys narrative draws the Techtopian and Green Luddite ideologies are opposed
directly from the internal contradictions of the Techspressive in casting technology consumption as either improvement
ideology: technology consumption is pleasurable, almost too or detriment to society. They differ as to whether technology
much so. Enticing technology tempts abuse and is dangerous consumption (or nonconsumption) is moral or immoral. As
in ways similar to drugs or gambling. The sense of tech- an entire ideological field, technology contains this paradox,
nology as detrimental evokes the Green Luddite ideology that yet by developing contrarieties between ideological ele-

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ments and contradictions within them, the model structures material culture where objects are signs that reflect institu-
surface-level dissimilarities and demonstrates how each tional struggles, semantic lacking, and ceaseless contestation
ideological elements contradictions are consonant with the transpiring on the level of consumer narrative and act.
draw of other, ostensibly opposed, ideologies. Technology ideology is, itself, a technology: a technology/
This article illustrates intersubjective ideological dyna- ideology. As Hayles (1999, 11415) points out, the con-
mism in action through analysis of consumer narratives. In junction of technology and discourse is crucial to concep-
Bettys narrative, the Work Machine ideology of productiv- tions of contemporary humans as posthuman cyborgs. By
ity, for example, is contradicted by an attendant implication including and merging technological objects and discursive
of exploitative enslavement and distance from natural and formations, the idea becomes ideal, transcending the actu-
authentic ways of life. Traversing moral standards and emo- ality of things and partaking in the power of human imag-
tional relations, this narrative of the natural summons the ination that is central to the role of ideology (Haraway 1991;
corresponding Green Luddite ideology of detriment and its Laclau and Mouffe 1985; Zizek 1989). Technology and sci-
attendant strategy of nonconsumption, as observed in ence have become the principal cultural and consumption
Bettys lifestyle. However, as demonstrated in Rickys and domains that spark the utopian imagination in America
Velmas narratives, these exploitative relations can be coun- today, fulfilling the deep-seated imperative to imagine and
tered, while still remaining within Enlightenment forms of then desire a better world (Jameson 2005). During most of
reason and industrial empowerment, by interpellating an the last century, the Techtopian ideology has been favored
identity consonant with the Techtopian ideology. and adopted by big business, entrepreneurs, scientists, ac-
The model is complex, as each ideology is linked to every ademics, socialists, and progressives from the left and the
other one. The findings provide evidence for this proposi- right of the political spectrum (Ross 1991; Segal 1985;
tion, presenting Rickys narrative drawing on all four ideo- Wright 2006). This article helps us to see how technology
logical elements, and Velmas, Freds, and Bettys narratives ideologies focus and channel consumers identities and life-
drawing upon three of them (data not presented here reveal styles into this generally utopian ideological direction.
them using all four ideological elements). Central to the This research began as an investigation that sought to
models ideology are contradictions in morality (collectivist account for high technologys incredible draw. The answer
and individualist), between reason and emotion, and be- it proposes is that ideologies of technology have become
tween labor and pleasure or work and play. Through patterns interwoven with almost every realm of human endeavor and
of inner contradiction, each ideological element summons imagination: mundane and lofty, work and play, sex and
all of the others, but the form that mobilization assumes on food, progress and improvement, communication and plea-
the realized level of manifest consumer thought, speech, and sure. With technology consumption constructed not only as
action is nondeterministic and unpredictable. It is influenced the path to social progress and economic growth but also
by the unique gender, ethnic, class, and other social and as the road to pleasure, there seems very little ideological
psychological situation of the consumer, as well as by their space left for consumers to construct a viable oppositional
their goals, life themes, and life projects. For Ricky, tech- viewpoint. Indeed, most solutions to social and environ-
nology is a livelihood, a way for people to connect, and a mental problems now involve adaptations of technology,
powerfully addictive joyride. For Betty, it is a livelihood, a such as the use of appropriate or green technology (Stef-
detriment to a natural life, and a way to express modern fen 2006).
style. These narratives reveal technology consumption as The models historical approach makes salient a plethora
the product of historical ideological elements interpellated of repercussive and pragmatic research questions. How have
into personal relationships with technology that help con- particular ideologies gained popularity over time? How and
sumers define themselves as unique individuals pursuing why have particular historical milieu and social forces fa-
meaningful paths through purposeful lives. vored particular ideologies such as the Techtopian? Careful
Examining technology, one of the cardinal consumption sociohistorical studies might trace the way that this and other
categories of contemporary times, this research also informs ideologies (such as the more recent Techspressive ideology)
our understanding of the ideological relationship that con- have been represented, marketed, and interpellated. The
sumers have with the material world of commercial culture. much-maligned but persistent and ever-shifting Green Lud-
As with the notions of technology described herein, various dite ideologythe only ideological position in this model
aspects and categories of the material world are slippery from which to oppose technology consumption and under-
ideological terrain. The meaning and values of commercial take technology-based activismcould similarly be traced.
objects jostle about within consumers consciousness with- The workings of this model and the small sample of
out ever clearly settling. Invoking Lacanian notions of the American technology informants used to develop and test
One and unrealizable desire, we understand more clearly the it invite further verification and refinement. Do particular
transient emotional and intellectual links between commercial consumers tend to adopt one particular ideology as a dom-
objects and the more ideologically stable institutional realms inant ideology that directs their narratives and actual con-
such as religion, family, and politics. The apparently post- sumption (e.g., Rickys Techspressive-based narratives,
modern indeterminacy of free-floating consumption mean- Bettys Green Ludditecentered narratives)? How stable are
ings is illustrated here as an ideologically charged realm of allegedly stable technology stances, such as the innovator

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