Wednesday, April 14, 2010

WS: From Technology to Commodity

In Kyongwon Yoon’s “The representation of mobile youth in the post-colonial techno-nation of Korea,” the transformation from the mobile phone’s status from a technology to a commodity highlights many of the tensions throughout this week’s reading. Initially seen as a symbol for Korea’s national growth and a new technologically situated identity, as the mobile phone proliferated into society and into the hands of youth and other previously marginalized users of technology, this use shifted into a representation of consumer society at its worst.  In the case of Korea, “technology” was tied to a future promise and hope, or as Yoon writes, to “a recurring post-colonial desire to catch up materially with the West” or “to overcome their own inferiority complexes” (119). Commodity, however, became the somewhat ugly present state of affairs, tied to an anxiety of marginalized users.
            The discursive shift from the mobile phone as technology to commodity took place with the emergent use by youth and other non-dominant social groups. It is this discursive shift that that we can also see at in Lawrence Liang’s “Porous Legalities and Avenues of Participation.” During the boom of cassette-tape recordings and technology that took place in India during the 1980s, the presence of T-Series and the illegalities that they initiated marked their entrance and dominance into the market, changing not only the music industry and cassette culture in India, but also, as Liang argues, the technology of cassette production into a mass commodity (10).
            In both examples, these acts of commoditization are marked by a deviancy by marginalized sectors of society, both socially and economically. These meanings as taken up in public discourse, Yoon argues, emerged through an asymmetrically constructed discussion of consumption versus production. Whereas Korean youth were seen as stricken with “an excessive consumer behaviour that needed to be controlled”, sparking a media panic or anxiety surrounding the threat of social disorder due to youth mobile phone usage and related technologies, in Liang’s example, an equal anxiety surrounded production by non-state and non-elite actors. In the case of India’s cassette technology production, the sector’s growth and popularity was shaped and created by the actions based on what Liang describes as “porous legalities.”
            The tension between production and consumption is only further complicated in the nation’s aspirations in modernity and their relation to the public sphere. For Korean youth, it became a threat of collective participation and socialization that perhaps pointed to discourses of excessive consumption. In India, the cassette-technology producers created a culture and market based on a transgression of deviancy from the law. In what ways do these figures unveil a “a dispersed logic of production and consumption,” where these two areas are no longer as separable? In what ways have relations of production become enmeshed or masked by social relations and do these groups trouble such social imaginaires? 


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