Part Two: Commercial Social Culture

Post Two: Commercial Social Culture

Bepen Bhana’s talk on his recent show Boom! Boom! Deluxe at the Papakura Art gallery resonated with me because of his interest in Commercial culture, I am interested in how commercial culture impacts social culture. Bepen was talking about the culture in terms of products to consume and be consumed by, but I began to think of consumer culture in terms of social contact.

Increasingly the idea of a vicarious life lived through in Bepen’s talk, the acquisition of brands or knockoffs, and in my thoughts through media and technology is becoming present, and it asks the question of authenticity, the physical ‘real’ contact opposed to the virtual ‘unreal’ contact between people and which is more valid. It also raises the issue that Consumer culture is what is shaping and hosting the places both physical and virtual in which we as people relate.

A phrase from the exhibition catalogue from Boom! Boom! Deluxe  was what kick-started my thinking along these lines: “ …the retail installation space as a social site for economic transaction and exchange…”  (Bhana, 2012, p. 18).

The way in which I was thinking about it is to omit the word economic and think about the retail space as a social site for transaction and exchange. How do consumer sites both physical and virtual affect human relations? Places like shopping malls and supermarkets are sites for economic exchange, they are also social sites where we meet and we relate with other people within that framework of a consumer-oriented site. Online social spaces are similar, the contact with people may be the main reason for interaction but the framework is laden with advertising for special offers and the distraction of one-time only special deals.

How do these sites as social platforms for interaction impact the way in which we as humans relate to each other? We are at a point now in social culture where people are divided by social media, who has it, and who does not. Many people in the older generations interact without the use of technology and don’t comprehend its point, while at the time younger generations are dependant on it. How does this affect social behaviour for the people caught up in it? For the people left out? And the way in which these two groups of people relate to each other.

Nothing confuses my father more than when my young cousins talk about posting a link to someone else’s twitter feed. To him, those words are simply words, unconnected to his daily life and he doesn’t understand the language. Tech speak has become a second language that can be exclusionary to those who don’t speak it. Conversely, the thought of walking up to a stranger and talking to them, which is commonplace in my father’s daily life, send shivers of imagined horror down the spines of my digital native cousins.

The products necessary to the digital natives, the products we buy to help us maintain contact also manoeuvre us into consuming more of the product, to continually upgrade and extend ourselves further into a product range, encouraging us to consume more, to pay more, to spend more time up keeping our social connections. Our online social contact in a way has become a product, which is sold to us in the form of new gadgetry, or sold to corporations to assist in the formation of new gadgetry and consumables, making us both the consumer and the consumed in that framework.

Maybe the dividing line between the digital ‘haves’ and the digital ‘have-nots’  is not only a matter of income (those that can afford gadgetry, and those that cannot) but also drawn in the personal habits of relation formed by people, what they are used to and what languages they are able to speak,  digital or analogue.


If a digital native is someone who was born into and is fluent in the digital world and a digital immigrant is someone who comes to the digital landscape and learns to speak its language, what of the other group of people who don’t participate and cannot speak the language, are they digital outcasts? Then there are those who tire of the digital world and abandon their Facebook pages and Farmville farms and seek out relations in the ‘real’ world, do they become digital refugees?




One thought on “Part Two: Commercial Social Culture

  1. Hi Rose,

    Nice post. I’ve had some interesting conversations with people around the fact that, as we develop new technologies, we actually use them to “create” rather than “substitute” real-life interactions. So the train, the telephone, and now Twitter etc actually enabled people to see more of each other, rather than less. So maybe it’s not an either/or between the digital and real-life worlds?

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