I’ve just been reading Bauman’s relentlessly depressing The Individualized Society. There is a short essay on instant gratification that deals in part with the way our ability to either locate ourselves in any grand narrative of progress, or to defer gratification for a later time (or life) is lost and replaced with individualised consumer experiences of history and progress (This seems a lot like Turner’s move from Limial ritual to liminoid by the way, so it’s a recurring concern for sociologists). The result is that it is now in the market where we may find the sorts of progress and meaning that are denied us elsewhere. Of course these are all ersatz.
The launch of a ‘eagerly awaited new’ iPhone 3GS would seem a good example of Bauman’s concern. See this report on the queues to be the first to own one and which also tells us that: ‘Apple also addressed user desires, adding a 3-megapixel digital camera with autofocus’. Or this one. Or this one with a review by the BBC that seems to illustrate just how superficial most of the new features actually are (it even comes with an electronic compass). At some point these small product changes became news and became something to hope for, to get excited by, and to want to be ‘part of’. Those queuing to buy the first one’s no doubt feel that in a small way they are part of something historic. We can see this in the ‘unboxing’ videos posted to Youtube. They are making history instantly, with no more effort that a queue in the sunshine with likeminded Apple fans and the entry of a credit card pin. This instant gratification is fleeting though. At best it will last until the next new Apple product, but in reality it’s likely to have worn off tomorrow (the unboxing might even have been the pinnacle). At that point the desiring consumer must seek another commodity, the promise of which will sustain a sense of purposeful future that is absent in trivialised labour and social lives.