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Technology as Fashion

Michael Bull


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In 1957 Vance Packard complained that the manufacturers of typewriters and telephones had recently begun producing models in a wide range of colors rather than in their traditional black. He critically surmised that the sole motive for this innovation was “to make owners dissatisfied with their plain old black models” ( Packard 1957 , 72). Packard understood that the introduction of color into the appearance of these technologies added nothing to their functionality, that color was ephemeral and external to the workings of these technologies. The ephemeral was merely “fashionable.” That owners of traditional black models might become dissatisfied with their “old” models was, he thought, attributable to the workings of those in the →  advertising industries (→  Advertising ; Advertising: Global Industry ) who would work their sophistries upon a naïve public. Packard's understanding of the role of advertising in consumer culture looked forward to →  Roland Barthes's The fashion system (1983), in which Barthes highlighted the central role played by advertising in the construction of cultural meaning. For him, fashion items are never understood raw, as mere material objects, but are always understood through the mediation of media messages. Without the media, there is no →  fashion . Packard's analysis also looked to the work of Thorstein Veblen , who had produced the earliest ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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