Digital Technology and Cultures/Interconnected Technology And Cultural Studies and Identity
CULTURAL STUDIES AND IDENTITY
Raymond Henry Williams (1921-1988).
Raymond H. Williams was a Welsh academic and theorist. He was an influential figure in defining the term culture. His writings and critique of culture made significant contributions to the field of cultural studies.
Stuart McPhail Hall (1932-2014).
Stuart M. Hall was a Jamaican-born British cultural theorist. He was one of the founding members of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. His works connecting racial prejudice and media have become foundational in the study of contemporary cultural studies.
This Al Jazeera produced video on Hall’s ideas on race, gender, class in the media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWP_N_FoW-I&feature=youtu.be, gives a brief overview of the cultural themes we should consider as we view media through the cultural studies lens.
Categories of Culture
In John Storey’s (2015) chapter on “Culturalism” we find Raymond Williams’ “The Analysis of Culture.” In the analysis, Williams presents three categories to consider in defining culture: the ideal, how we think culture could be better; the documentary record, a way to remember the past; and the social, how we speak about our present way of life.
Concepts of Identity
Stuart Hall (1996) describes three concepts of identity. The first is the enlightenment subject, one who knows one’s own identity, “whose ‘center’ consisted of an inner core which first emerged when the subject was born, and unfolded with it, while remaining essentially the same - continuous or ‘identical’ with itself - throughout the individual's existence” (597). The second is the social subject, where you view yourself as part of a community. The idea that your identity is formed from your relationship with others. Our identities shape culture and vice-versa culture shapes our identities. The post-modern subject is the last identity concept. Post-modern subjects believe you are not born with a stagnate identity. Identities are formed and changed by their experiences. We assume different identities at different times and locations in our lives, identities rely on historical experiences. This allows us to have conflicting identities, we are ever changing. We must considered these definitions of culture and identity in order to fully understand modern society. We can use this cultural studies lens to potentially unpack a culture system and help understand how they construct a person’s identity.
I will use Hall’s ideas of culture and identity to critique the interconnected exercise technology, examining the technology and the larger behavior and social structures this technology shapes.
INTERCONNECTED EXERCISE TECHNOLOGY THROUGH THE CULTURAL STUDIES AND IDENTITY LENS
What is an interconnected exercise technology?
An interconnected exercise is an exercise machine that uses the internet to connect users to each other users. An example is the Peloton’s stationary bike. The company defines the word peloton, as the main group of riders in a race. They also add the subheading of “Riders in a peloton work together, conserve energy and perform better because of one another.” Peloton’s stationary bike have a fairly big screen attached to them where users can connect to other users, access on-demand classes, or join a live-stream of a class while using the machines. Users pay a monthly subscription to access these options. According to Marketpace.org, the popularity of social, yet isolated aspect of these exercise machines is the next big thing. The price tag of a Peloton stationary bike starts at $2,245 and over 300,000 have been sold with millions of monthly of subscribers at $39 per month. This new technology is offering a different way for people to work out and companies investing in this trend have the potential for huge profits.
This interconnected exercise technology reinforces the notion that people want to exercise at the comfort of their own home. It supposes people want the comfort home without the isolation feeling. It aims to give on-demand the social aspect some might want. The upfront cost is prohibitive for most people, so it clearly is geared toward people of a higher income bracket. The value implicit in this technology is people of wealth can further insulate themselves. People want this need, or feel they need to protect themselves from other people will find this technology compelling and attractive. I think this technology offers both freedom and constraints. Freedom in the ability to access it on-demand from the comfort and safety of your home. Constraints in the fact that this is just one machine and you are connecting to others only through screen.
What does cultural studies reveal about this interconnected exercise technology?
In Stuart Hall’s (1996) article “Introduction: Who Needs Identity?”, he claims the fact that identities are products within its community. This inner production of identity within the discourse, inherently gives it the capacity to “exclude, to leave out, to render 'outside', abjected. Every identity has at its 'margin', an excess, something more” (5). He further adds this inner circle of like-minded affability is unnatural, it is “but a constructed form of closure, every identity naming as its necessary, even if silenced and unspoken other, that which it 'lacks'” (5). This interconnected exercise equipment, given its costs and ability to make it possible for people to be in somewhat isolation and connected to others only when desired, falls squarely in Hall’s assertion. When we are made aware of this scenario, we can thoughtfully use cultural studies to form a different discourse that will in turn form something quite different from our historical understanding of identity. Hall revised the term identity to mean an intersection where: “Identities are, as it were, the positions which the subject is obliged to take up while always 'knowing' (the language of consciousness here betrays us) that they are representations, that representation is always constructed across a 'lack', across a division, from the place of the Other, and thus can never be adequate - identical - to the subject processes which are invested in them” (6). We are no longer concerned with merely constructing identity, we are equally concerned with identification of subjects and practices that is in our constitution.
With this new reference, we can employ the knowledge of how identities are constructed when assessing a digital technology artifact. Returning to the interconnected exercise stationary bike, Peloton, what identity is this equipment attempting to construct? Did the makers of this equipment aim to include everyone in their pool of consumers? I doubt the makers hoped that everyone will be their consumer. The cost of this equipment immediately excludes a large segment of the world. When only people of wealth and means can purchase this equipment, it intentionally excludes those of lesser means. Possession of this exercise equipment creates an identity in its circle of elitism. Many people are outside of the circle falling in the margins. To its credit, this exclusivity is what makes the company profitable. What this reveals about people, is we want to be included. A business model of for-profit, not for-all-people will often choose to further exploit this desire, which will result in even more profits.
Beras, Erika. 2019. “Is interconnected exercise the next big thing?” Marketplace.org. Accessed March 1, 2019. https://www.marketplace.org/2019/02/28/tech/interconnected-exercise-next-big-thing.
Hall, S. (1996). “The question of cultural identity.” In S. Hall, D. Held, D. Hubert, and K. Thompson (Eds.), Modernity: An introduction to modern societies. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Storey, J. (2015). "Culturalism." Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis, pp. 38-58.