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.


Kara said...

I found this blog entry to be particularly interesting. I am not sure that I agree that the act of purchasing goods has been “virtual” for a long time. Yes, services are always intangible, but one can argue that they cannot be comparable to virtual gifts- let alone being virtual in themselves.

While it is an amusing gesture to send your friends virtual flowers and candy for valentines day, is the future really going to replace tangible gifts and gestures? While we always joke to "Thank God for Facebook" since without it we would never remember anyone's birthday- maybe this says a lot more about our generation and our future. Yes, modern technology and advertising is constantly improving our lives- but it it making us better or just making us lazier- and cheaper?

In my opinion, virtual gifts are more than an extension of a gesture- they are proof that times are changing and maybe not for the better.. (especially for the future of florists worldwide.)

Jojoseph said...

I agree with Kara on many points that she made. i agree that many facebook users have began to rely too much on facebook for information and it has taken away from talking to people face to face, on the phone, etc. It is understandabale that a person cannot call everyone, everyday but facebook has take over the means of communicating. Kara questioned whether modern technology is making us better of lazier and cheaper? Which is a question I also have.

Facebook is a tool for people to keep up to date on people's lives.. I also think that it is allowing people to get away with forgetting people's birthday, which is the reason why I do not include my birthday on my page. I notcied that people that hardly ever talk to you and people that would've never remembered your birthday without facebook are always the ones to write "Happy Birthday" on the facebook wall first. the virtual gifts are cute, and it goes to show that times are changing and facebook is taking over the world.

Becky Quinn said...

The world of virtual goods and the consequental loss of touch shows a significant change in our product world. Giving a tangible gift or actually saying "Happy Birthday!" face-to-face is now being replaced by a virtual gift or facebook wall post. However, this virtual gifting has moved far beyond just facebook. For my roommate's most recent birthday, she received an email from her mom that she had received an Amazon gift card. There was not the excitement of opening a gift or any sense of tangibilty related to her birthday, just an email. Because of that, I actually felt sad for my roommate. Eventually, future generations will have no actual presents at all, just an exchange over the internet. To me, this seems so cold and emotionless, will birthdays have the same affective meaning anymore? This does seem rather dramatic and perhaps even impossible, but the world of virtual gifts will have a serious effect on the gift-giviing of the future.