Topics in Emerging Media and Communications

Techno Burgers

with 3 comments

I’m sitting on my couch watching TV, not feeling the least bit hungry when a commercial hawking the biggest, juiciest, most perfectly staged hamburger I’ve ever seen flashes across the screen. Suddenly my stomach grumbles, my mouth waters, and my eyes grow in proportion to the cheesy burger. Growing, grumbling, growing, grumbling until I just can’t take it anymore. My brain hears my gastromic orchestrations and says, “Hey stomach, that restaurant is just down the street. It would be so easy to get in your car and  buy a burger to ease your pain” and my stomach agrees: Must. Have. Burger.

Somehow, 5 minutes later, I find myself in the drive-thru, ordering a 2,000-calorie burger I didn’t know I wanted, But I feel in control. This burger was my decision and darn it I went out and got it. Victory is mine!

This scenario has happened to me (more than once) and I’m willing to bet it’s happened to you (unless you have self-control, which I lack). But how does an impulsive burger run have anything to do with technology?

My desire for a burger began with technology. I was watching TV and advertisers spend billions of dollars to make sure that their product gets into my psyche and stays put. TV happens to be the medium to best reach me during my hour of weakness. And they don’t just target me as an individual, they target the collective of people who watch my TV show, read my favorite magazine, or visit my preferred online shopping site.

But it’s not solely the advertiser. I, the individual, look for the fastest shopping experience, most streamlined method of communication, and the one product that will make my life easier. Why? Because I want to enjoy all the extra time technology promises. I can stream Netflix from my computer or text Grandma instead of enduring a 3-hour phone update. Look at all the extra time I have! Isn’t technology amazing?

Yes, it is amazing. It also threatens the idea of the autonomous individual. We all use technology all the time, and we all want the newest and greatest. The idea of “The American Dream” comes to mind, complete with ipads for the entire family. It sounds ridiculous to go against technology when it is so accessible and convenient, and yet my parents refuse to buy a cell phone on principle.

Herbert Marcuse discusses how the new, mechanized system of labor, fueled by technological advancements, supports a collective standardization and collective achievement, thereby replacing an individualist, predominantly agrarian labor structure.

Does this mean that Individuality is dead?

We are all cogs in the big machine, consuming, producing, with the same voice and the same desires, but then again, maybe not. Marcuse defends that individuality isn’t dead; it just becomes unnecessary in large-scale industry and mass culture structures. The individual within each of us fights against the idea of being one of the lemmings, part of a collective that is easily swayed by structures created for mass control. But when we allow technology to streamline our daily tasks, we allow more time for other pursuits.

“Moreover, mechanization an standardization may one day help to shift the center of gravity from the necessities of material production to the arena of free human realization. The less individuality is required to assert itself in standardized social performances, the more it could retreat to a free ‘natural’ ground.”

If technology made my crave the hamburger so much I had to buy it, you could say I was now free. I didn’t have to spend time thinking about what I wanted to eat, I didn’t have to grow the ingredients, butcher the cow, or prepare the meal. I have an instant hamburger, a burger that has been served over a billion times, but its homogeny has possibility. I could cut it in little bits and pass it out to all my friends so they could share my experience. I could add some guacamole and jalapenos for a new flavor combination, or I could use the hamburger a inspiration for my next work of art.  The hamburger potentials are endless, and dare I say transcendent, all because I am free to get creative.


Written by HiuHiMedia

September 1, 2010 at 3:12 am

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. What fast food place did you get the hamburger from? The only hamburger commercial I can remember is Paris Hilton’s Carl’s Jr. ad. It was effective advertising not because the hamburger looked appetizing or Paris Hilton is such a great person I need to be just like her. It worked because she looked like a million bucks. They must have flown in Mariah Carey’s lighting guy and used the best mineral makeup HSN has to offer because she looked awesome. We all know what she looks like. The wonky eye and the pendulous breasts but son of a vondruke if she did not look a million bucks. If Carl’s Jr. can make me look like that I would eat that everyday of my life. My higher brain knows that she only looks good because of 2 million dollars worth of light, bulimia, coke and Red Bull but a boy can dream can’t he? Marcuse’s idea that technological rationality will make humans act against their own self interest makes sense to me. I think that Americans in general like to think of themselves as individualist but I doubt how true that is. It seems to me that while we do have a percentage of the population that operate outside of traditional standards most fall into the trap of standardization. I would like to look at the glass half full and say that technological rationality could be used to foster a resurgence in individualism and renewed interest in active participation in our democracy but like Marcuse it seems unlikely to me.

    Lewis Giles

    September 1, 2010 at 4:29 am

    • Oh Lewis, I’m swayed by delicious food, not blond heads with hanger bodies, but I’m a simple girl. The particular commercial that moved me was Whataburger, simple, glorious Whataburger.

      There is a reason why so many commercials just advertise the food, no gimmicks, because it’s what we want: two all-beef patties, special sauce, pickles, lettuce on a sesame seed bun (and I didn’t have to google that).

      I absolutely agree with Marcuse that convenience can breed human ingenuity. We are no longer day laborers, expending all our energy to survive. We are fee to experience so much more and that freedom is a direct result of technology which connects up to the global community.

      I’m interested in your skepticism of the possibility of renewed active participation in democracy. I think the last election’s voter participation was greatly increased by technology and grassroots efforts.


      September 1, 2010 at 5:22 pm

  2. Great post Meagan – I can’t believe you tied Marcuse to a hamburger commercial, but you pulled it off fantastically!

    I look forward to hearing more from both you and Lewis about the potentialities of individualism now that our technological rationality has had almost 70 years to evolve since Marcuse wrote his essay. Perhaps in the week involving shifting models of political participation…


    September 3, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: