Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Virtual Goods and the Loss of Touch
Kinesics is the study of body language and in that gestures. Simply put a gesture is a cultural practice, like greeting someone by shaking his or her hand. But in our postmodern society, gestures take on new meaning as those who frequent Facebook or Second Life or some other on-line “world” that allows for what may be referred to as virtual gestures. Among the many ways gestures, virtual or authentic, are utilized is to show emotion. And, so on Valentine’s Day, one might give or receive virtual flowers--an emotional gesture--through Facebook. You may think this is absurd, but the virtual goods market is now $1.5 billion per year, according to a post on TechCrunch.
I'm bringing this phenomenon to your attention to point out the way virtual gestures connect to postmodern advertising. If the kind of virtual goods that are being sold aren’t about the product—remember the product is virtual—then what else is it about? Well, one thing is the emotion associated with the gesture. I think that emotions associated with gesturing go back before there were such things as virtual goods. In my book Advertising in Everyday Life I write about the loss of tactility that accompanied the development of mass-produced goods. By loss of tactility, I’m referring to our removal from the means of production – we no longer make our own stuff. And, because of packaging, we are unable to see or touch products we purchase, as just about everything comes sealed in a box. So, in my opinion the act of purchasing goods has been “virtual” for a long time; services because they are intangible to begin with, have always been virtual by my definition. So, virtual goods are no big deal in my opinion, just an extension of a cultural practice—gesture—that is more than 100 years old. What has replaced our ability to “touch” products is advertising. Yes, in a postmodern sense we touch advertising through our participation with it. Whether it’s consumer generated advertising or simply voting, which I’ve written about in this blog, these are both gestures. So, I think that purchasing virtual goods is novel, but the ideas upon which it is based are not new. I think, like postmodern advertising, tactility and in that gestures have taken on extended meaning.