Fragmented Report from the Heart of Techno-Consumerism

2017

In September 2017, I represented Philips at Europe’s biggest consumer electronics fair, IFA, in Berlin. Curious to find out how the dreams of a smooth technologized world are constructed and disseminated from the inside, I applied for a job with a PR agency that represents Philips Consumer Lifestyle at trade fairs worldwide. After attending an interview and submitting various kinds of photo and video footage I was hired to promote the latest innovations in ‘Male Grooming’.

1. Restrictions
Agreement, dated 18 August 2017
Between
1.    XXX (the ‘Client’);
2.    Dani Ploeger (the ‘Freelancer’)
The Freelancer has agreed to make their services available to the Client on the terms and conditions set out in this Agreement.
(…)
10: Confidential Information
(…)
10.1.9 All notes, memoranda, records, documents and other works (whether recorded on paper, computer memory or discs or otherwise) made by the     Freelancer in the course of their duties or relating to the activities of the Client and any copies thereof or other records prepared from such notes, memoranda, records, documents and other works or information contained therein shall be and remain the property of the Client and together with any  Confidential Information in the Freelancer’s possession, custody or control     shall be promptly handed over by the Freelancer to the Client on the date on which this Agreement is terminated and at any stage during the term of this Agreement when requested by the Client.
10.1.10 The provisions of this clause 10 shall survive the termination or expiry of this Agreement for whatever reason.

2. A public document made by a third party

As you can see in this video document, which is available in the public domain, I promoted Philips V-Track Precision Blades PRO with 8-directional ContourDetect technology, among other innovations in shaving technology. Dressed in a neatly ironed shirt with the company logo on the front and the text “How can I make your life better?” printed on the back, I spent seven days addressing thousands of consumers and retailers through a little portable loudspeaker.

3. Notes on a public document made by a third party
The following are some thoughts in response to the video mentioned above, which do not form part of the ‘notes, memoranda, records, documents and other works’ I (‘the Freelancer’) made as part of my duties for ‘the Client’ (see paragraph 10.1.9).

 

Like the shaving devices, most products on the Philips stand are domestic technologies focused on health and well-being: robotic vacuum cleaners and air purifiers (3000 series with ‘VitaShield IPS’ and ‘Aerasense technology’); low-fat air cookers (with ‘unique Rapidair Technology’); data-collecting baby care products (‘AVENT uGrow baby development tracker’); electric toothbrushes that monitor your brushing technique through a phone app (Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected). These domestic technologies, which in various ways are related and connected to their users’ bodies, are promoted under the central slogan that appears across the stand: ‘There’s Always a Way to Make Life Better’.
 

The connection between the body and a desire for improvement that is thus established is reminiscent of Zygmunt Bauman’s (2000) discussion of the transition from a culture organized on the basis of a notion of ‘health’, towards an engagement with bodies that is shaped around the concept of ‘fitness’. Health has traditionally operated as a normative principle, marking a boundary between a state of normality and abnormality (illness, disease), which can be described and often measured to a degree of precision. Being ‘in good health’ has been connected to a sense of the body being in an adequate condition to meet certain socially determined requirements, such as acting out a profession. On the contrary, the concept of ‘fitness’ is connected to subjective experience and not tied to a measurable, finite state. There is no end to fitness, you can always be ‘fitter’. Accordingly, Bauman points out that ‘Life organized around the pursuit of fitness promises a lot of victorious skirmishes, but never the final triumph’ [1].
Bauman considers this as a symptom of what he calls ‘liquid modernity’, which entails a society where the organizational and power structures of modern society have become unstable in a way that promotes insecurity and anxiety tied to ever-increasing consumption. Thus, the attachment of the slogan ‘There’s Always a Way to Make Life Better’ to body-related technologies conveniently directs liquid-modern consumers’ anxieties around their ever-elusive fitness goals towards an incentive to continuously replace their domestic consumer technologies for the latest, improved version.

 

Another point of interest in the way in which domestic technologies are promoted here relates to Russell Davies’ [2] concept of the postdigital. Davies describes the postdigital as a condition where society has been saturated with digital technologies and where they have been integrated into the everyday to such an extent that their presence starts to lose prominence in people’s perception. Meanwhile, concepts developed as part of digital on-screen and online formats start to be implemented in other aspects of life in the physical world.
The fact that the toothbrushes, vacuum cleaners and baby care products mentioned above have now all become the domain of advanced digital technologies might be an indication that we are indeed at the dawn of a postdigital era. At the same time, the way in which shaving machines are promoted suggests that the transfer of principles originating in the realm of digital technology goes beyond merely ‘stuff that digital technologies have catalysed online and on screens’ (2009: n.p).

 

The terminology used in relation to the shavers’ technical aspects (V-Track Precision Blade PRO, 8-directional ContourDetect technology), as well as the model designations of the devices (‘7000 Series’, ‘9000 Series’), resemble the jargon that was in previous eras reserved for high-tech innovations in the specialist domain of scientific, military and personal computing technology. Note the formal similarity with names used for high-end computer components, such as ‘ASUS H170 PRO Gaming ATX Motherboard’ or ‘Intel Core 2 Quad Processor Q6600’. The spill-over of this jargon into the realm of shaving devices means that this product, which previously might have been considered as a rather unspectacular, long-life home appliance, is now increasingly likely to be perceived as part of the realm of semi-disposable high-tech items that operates according to a logic of rapid innovation.
Thus, it appears that a postdigital condition will affect the broader field of commodity marketing as well. While the far-going integration of digital technologies into everyday life leads to a decline in users’ conscious experience of their presence, this also facilitates the dissolution of clearly perceptible boundaries between digital commodities and devices that were traditionally considered as long-life products. At last, we might see the incorporation of all commodities into the paradigm of rapid product obsolescence and high-speed consumption.

4. Post-script
12.1     The Freelancer shall not, whether directly or indirectly, or whether on their own behalf or on behalf of any other person, firm or company, or as agent, director, partner, manager, employee, consultant or shareholder of or in any other person, firm or company:
(…)
12.1.2 at any time after the termination of this Agreement, in any way hold itself or himself out as engaged by, representing or acting for the Client.

References

[1] Bauman, Zygmunt (2000) Liquid modernity. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

[2] Davies, Russell (2009) meet the new schtick. [online] Available at: http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/2009/01/meet-the-new-schtick.html [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].