Objects and Us

What did you wear today? Did you slip on your well worn Chucks or squeeze yourself into a dress shirt and pants? Did you pull on your lucky underwear? Or chose a spanking new document clutch instead of your usual haversack? The simple act of taking a closer look at your daily routine will illustrate clearly what Henry Ford meant with his quote above.

Heading out for a casual night out with your friends will have you reaching out for your Chucks, because one look at them and you’ve gathered: these are my comfortable shoes. They’ll last me the entire night without any agonizing blisters AND they’re a style classic that goes with my outfit.

Remember the time you got caught on barbed wire and hung upside down for hours?

A job interview? Time to dig out the formal suit from the depths of the abyss you call your wardrobe. Your suit is telling you a story. They are just like your interview – uncomfortable, trying but very very necessary. They are also broadcasters telling your potential employers a story – you’re a professional, you know how to dress appropriately and that they should hire you. Here are three products with strong communication values to us.

1. Credit Cards

A credit card has become so imbued to our world that no eyebrows would be raised at the sight of one. However, there are still two camps on the issue – the holders, and the withholders. Holders own credit cards, while withholders… don’t.

To a holder, a credit card says: you’ve made it. It is a symbol of financial stability/success and that you’re in-the-know. You know where to get the best deals, where to eat and you hold a key that opens up doors. It’s almost like you’re a mini celebrity – you get discount, freebies and perks that outsiders looking in don’t. You’re on the list. How others read your card:

Unless it’s a black Amex, you’re just like the rest of us.

On the other side, the withholders are people who not only do not own a credit card, but think that they are the work of the Devil. They see holders as people who:

1) are high maintenance
2) have a need to flaunt their wealth
3) spend more than they earn
4) have credit, but no cash

I’m better than you because all I have in my wallet is… credit?

So when a withholder sees a holder’s credit cards, it’s as if the card is screaming this at them. “My owner is not only frivolous and vain but also spends beyond her means. Approach at your own risk!”

Despite all odds and the naysaying withholders, Singapore’s credit card debt and spending soared to a record high in 2011. What is this obsession we have with this thin piece of plastic? It might be a love-hate relationship, but above all reasons, we covet and desire the card because of two reasons. It is a beacon of transitory pseudo freedom.

One of the hallmarks of a post-modernism child is suspicion. We are suspicious of external authority, of absolute truth and of absolute reality. We reside in a safe, relatively advanced and developed country but the price we pay for that is freedom. Now, we may not face Hitler-esque conditions nor do we struggle for our lives circa the Japanese Occupation but make no mistake about it – we haven’t thought of ourselves as being free for the longest time. To an individual used to living in a secure, independent country, what is the most precious commodity of freedom?

Without a question, it’ll be the freedom of speech. We yearn to express ourselves, to grasp the meaning of the elusive absolute freedom, yet we are stonewalled at every corner when influential people like Mr Brown are sued for their political satire on their blogs. These are frequent reminders that yes, while you are a civilized citizen in a developed country, you do NOT have the right to free speech.

How many of us would like to ditch our overworked and underpaid jobs? Go on a sabbatical to the Amazon Basin? Lie on a beach somewhere, coming up with the next Great American novel? How many of us sigh and go, “But I have _____(fill in your burden/commitment of choice)”

Ah… the life of a hippie smoking it up at the Stonehenge.

There is so little room to maneuver and deviate that we are unable to find meaning in this ‘freedom’ that comes with civilization. Problem is, we’re always looking for meanings. Why do we work? What is the meaning to life? Without a light at the end of the tunnel, we can only construct one for ourselves. Every time we swipe the card, the rush of handing over money we don’t have isn’t just due to the novelty. It is the brief sense of freedom that yes, I might not be able to chase my dreams but dammit, I can buy an overpriced piece of metal on credit if I want to.

We’re buying a slice of freedom, regardless of how short and momentary it is. And because it’s a credit card, the freedom experienced is pseudo – we’re not just spending money on something we don’t need… we’re spending someone else’s money! It’s sad that we have so little psychological freedom that we have to resort to getting our hit via a plastic transaction. And because it feels good, we do it again and again and again.

It is a safety net. Why do holders have a collection of credit cards? It’s simple. A credit card is frequently viewed as a safety net for people who spend beyond their means or for people who live from pay cheque to pay cheque. There is a reason why the insurance market is booming – we are all afraid of the unknown. We will never known what’s going to happen tomorrow, and the myriad of disasters and financial crises coming at us wave after wave doesn’t help.

We get increasingly paranoid, and since such catastrophes are outside of our control, the only thing we can do is to try and find ways to survive before it actually happens. It’s like stocking up dried food right before a war happens. We seek desperately for ways to better prepare ourselves for what might or might not come.

Maybe tomorrow, someone in your family would need a kidney transplant. Or you could lose your job. If you’re really unlucky, you might lose your home. We can’t stop what tomorrow might bring, but we can sure as hell try everything we can possibly do for a sense of assurance. As humans, we need that light at the end of the tunnel to tell us that everything will be alright. No emergency is too tough if we are prepared.

A credit card is the saving grace that goes, “Out of money? Don’t worry, I’ve got tons here to spare.”

As a communication technology, a credit card is a powerful one because it is a bountiful broadcaster of information that belongs to you. It holds so much data that we have to categorize it into three receiving identities: physical, issuer and third party. Physical refers to the actual card in tangible form, while issuer to the bank the card is issued by and third party means the places you use the card in.

Physical
When we go into the physical manifestation of the credit card, it is to illustrate how efficient it is as a communication technology because it really speaks for itself. Just one look at your card is all it takes for people to register your banking preferences, personality, lifestyle and social status. You can even judge a date by his choice of plastic. A multitude of ‘regular’ credit cards speaks for a multitude of spending problems.

Want an elite membership to a club the first time you’re there? Flash your Centurion “Black Amex” American Express card when you pick up the bill and presto! You have it. Then, have fun watching your server, bartender and everyone else near you in the club look at you like this:

Issuer
Every time you swipe your card, your bank knows just a little bit more about you. Where you like to shop, where you like to dine. Are most of your expenditures online? Is Singapore Airlines your preferred way to fly? Do you keep cash in the bank or in your wallet?

Or maybe how much of a badass you are.

It might sound trivial, but data-mining is one of the most lucrative industries out there currently since it is the best marketing tool now to really scrutinize the relevant target markets of companies. With your entire history of spending and earnings, your bank has backstage access to a whole load of data about you. The card is a vault of your information – your career level, spending power and consumer habits as well.

Third Party
Now, unlike banks, retailers and companies have no way to know you. Until you’ve shopped with them or made a transaction, that is.

Just one purchase for a product once in a blue moon, and Amazon is able to tell me what else that people similar to myself have purchased. Your credit card is your identity, and they are able to recognize you by your card and recommend you things based on your past purchases. They are also able to tell you what are the other products that people similar to you have purchased.

In addition, when you have a store card like Isetan, and you shop frequently there, your card is able to let Isetan know that ‘hey, here’s a regular customer!’ It lets Isetan or any other third party company recognize your spending patterns and brand loyalty there as well.

Objectifying

When you place meaning in a credit card, it objectifies you differently to different audiences. Firstly, if you see your card as a status symbol, something to mark your success in the world, you will use it to flaunt your financial fortune by often picking up the bill when you’re out with your friends, getting complimentary access into the hottest clubs for everyone and so on. People will then see you as the ATM.

I had this conversation with a friend a long time ago:

Friend: “Hey let’s ask XXX and XX to join us.”
Me: (surprised) “Why? I thought you hated them.”
Friend: “Yeah, well, they pick up all the bills with their cards that their parents cover.” *dials XXX’s number*

In the same way that people who drive tend to lose a bit of their identities in the beginning – when they’ve just gotten a pair of wheels and their friends start to see them not as a person per se, but a driver who can give them a lift home at the end of the night – if your plastic has become your calling card, people will start seeing you as the person who picks up the bill.

Another way that a credit card would objectify us would be treating us like we are no longer a person but instead their cash cow. The reason why we said that is because in times of need, they would not offer any support. For instance, ethically, if someone was facing a debt, we feel that it is our social responsibility to help, whereas for credit card companies, they are business owners who dont see their consumers as a normal person but only view us as value for money. They find it profitable to be insensitive and abusive, they can be self-righteous thinking that they are moral and ethical people, because the objectification of their customers trick their mind to believe so.

What you are about to see is an explicit video, if you are under the age of 18, please ignore the next section NOW!

In the above video, at 6:11, you can see that Nelly is actually sliding the credit card in the lady’s crevices of their butt. What we feel of this particular action is that in a way, he is portraying that women are like objects that can be bought with credit cards. The reason being, credit cards gives the impression to men in the video that women will never say no to money. They will do anything and go to any extent to get benefits from the cards that these men possess.

So does this question that men is being objectified by the credit card?

Reason being some girls that we know are attracted or impressed by the amount of credit cards that a guy has. Because it would mean that with more credit cards, they feel that the man will have no qualms on lavishing gifts on them. With that thought in mind, does it show that women only treat guys as a money machine?

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2. Crocs

What comes across your mind when someone asks you what do you think of the brand crocs or how do you perceive someone who uses crocs? Trendsetting? Fashion disaster? Comfortable? Classy? Healthy? Here is what some has to say,

Many stereotype it just by looking at the product on the surface, failing to realize the benefits of it and the message that the product is trying to put across. Yes, it might look awful to be walking around with a piece of rubber everyday but what people tend to overlook is the actual relationship we have with the product.

Crocs actually acts as an everyday necessity in terms of providing footwear, apparels, accessories etc with a unique selling point of promoting comfort, health, safety and also a trendsetting item. As its largest produce is footwear, they claimed to have an approved model providing molded insoles as diabetic footwear to help reduce foot injuries.

“CrocsRX” is one of their collections that fully specialize in aiding consumers with variety of foot problems and also correcting posture. One of our group mates is a user of crocs and yes he agrees with the comfort level that they claim to have and the lightweight of it. However, the downside of it is that he has to buy a new pair regularly as the soles wear off easily.

Talking about wear and tear, we must admit that Crocs is not relatively a cheap item to own. Some may argue as to why they should spend more than a certain amount for a piece of rubber as their durability can be questioned. This is where crocs come in to make people spend just to be in trend. and this is also where the aspect of brand loyalty for the product kicks in.

Crocs has also caused segregation in the society and made people more opinionated as to what they think of Crocs in a fashion perspective. Some go to the extent of creating a facebook group page and also viral videos to condemn not only Crocs products but also their users.

Despite the hatred that the brand has been receiving, they chose to interpret these negative feedbacks and criticism and turn it into a marketing strategy.

Bad publicity is still good publicity. Check this advert out.

Its normal to have views on a certain product but Crocs has surfaced more problems because of the nature of the product itself. Its either you like it or you don’t.

Crocs @ Work

Discomfort is part of our working life, there is no way to go about avoiding it. However, hyper consumerism make us demand things to come up with solutions and further improve our daily needs. Therefore we believe that this observation inspired crocs to expand their business to manufacture products that caters to certain professional usage.

“Crocs @ work” caters to the healthcare, airlines, food and beverage and hospitality industries. They have benefited from this line of collection, making it easier for them to standardize and create uniformity in their profession. These are some of the industries that require most comfort at work since their job needs them to be mobile and agile, so with the introduction of “crocs @ work”, it makes them feel more comfortable living up to their slogan, “built for your job, feel like a day off”.

As for us, we see Crocs as a construction. Without realizing, consumers actually use them to tell a story about themselves. They are buying the different collections to represent their needs and wants for their feet in their everyday lives. Some may want it for the health benefits, some may want it for full comfort during work or some may even want it because it is trendy yet comfortable.

In that sense they are building how they want others to perceive their public self, making their identity fragmented in a way. We feel that consumers can be customized just like how product is able to because consumers gets opportunities to choose collections according to their needs. An example would be those who prioritize health will go for the “CrocsRX” collection. Those who want to be trendy yet feel comfortable will have a choice to go for the “Crocband” or “Chameleon” collection.

crocs and golf

Crocs has also created a narrative identity for consumers. By introducing their award winning golf edition in 2012 and having a professional golfer to be an ambassedor for their collection, it has certainly convince golfers to buy the product. Having popular golf instructor Hank Haney best known for coaching Tiger Woods as a communication tool to reach out to golfers, those who look up to him as a role model would want to purchase the shoes just to be as good as him.

Jibbitz objectifies us and creates our identity

Some people even succumbed to the idea of owning a croc for the sake of collecting, be in trend or addiction. Through the creation of the Jibbitz, Crocs has also created a relationship with collectors, exciting them to collect their favorite characters and items.

As the slogan for the Jibbitz is “create your story”, Jibbitz actually do tell a story about a person. For example, kids would love to relate their favourite character they see on TVs to their everyday lives. Having Ben10 characters as their jibbitz make them feel like they are Ben10.

Some people are so obsessed that they have to own limited edition of the Jibbitz or the latest pieces. We believe that this is definitely a stunt to make more money to what they are already making because people do buy the idea of creating their own personality through their shoes.

In reference to the quote by Jean Baudrillard’s theory saying that identity is not fixed, but fluid – that’s why it is fragmented, Jibbitz do represent our personality, which represents our fragmented identity. The idea of collecting Jibbitz and to always be updated about the latest Jibbitz collection has also resulted in hyper consumerism. It caters to the consumer culture that makes you want to reassemble your fragmented self.

We believe that Jibbitz has also become a talking point amongst parents, kids and collectors and it has established itself to become a trademark of crocs. It has also connect people together in a social network spawning different kinds of fan bases on each collections of the Jibbitz. It also helps to bridge the gap between the young and the old giving them a common topic to talk about. It allows kids to socialize allowing them to trade Jibbitz amongst their friends.

Furthermore with eye-catching range of colours and the customization of several popular cartoon characters, crocs has further caught the attention from young kids as well as their parents. Competition may also surface as kids will start comparing amongst themselves and also to have the latest designs or models that their friends own.

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3. Mobile Phones

Before we dive head first into this topic, let us take a quick look at the pros and cons of the mobile phone.

Pros

  • Allows for communication with contacts that are not physically near.
  • Keeps us connected with our social circles through social networking applications.
  • Using the in-built media player, it keeps us entertained while commuting or simply when we have nothing to do.
  • Access to information on the go through the web.
  • Great for emergency situations – The relevant authorities are just a call away.

Cons

  • Lose the intimacy of face to face human interaction.
  • Lose confidence of striking up oral conversations with people which presents the risk of becoming anti social.
  • Lose part of our real identity in a sense – Yes we might be the non-stop chatterbox that we are when we’re behind the phone, but is that really who we are in person?
  • Lose focus of our surroundings.
  • Open the flood gates to more harmful social impacts such as making cyber bullying a whole lot easier since it’s mobile now.
  • As it satisfies all social communication needs, it might lead to addiction, which can bring about health issues, counter productivity
  • Mobile phone related crimes – Theft. The very same device that can connect us to the authorities during emergencies, might be the root of the problem after all.
  • Unnecessary spending to keep up with mobile phone trends.

When we think of communication, the first thing that will probably come into any of our minds, would be of people talking. That one single thought would probably include or be followed by a mental image of us using our mobile phones to communicate.

The majority of mobile phones that are being used today fall under the category of smart phones. Exactly like the name suggests, smart phones make us look smart, slick and even more brilliant than ever!

These are essentially light mobile computing platforms that allows access to information on the go with the inbuilt web browser, keep in touch with friends through social networking sites and also keep ourselves entertained with the media player all at once. That’s on top of the normal functions of the mobile phone such as making calls, and sending short messages (SMS) to our contacts.

The mobile phone has become such an important need in our daily lives that without it, people could or most probably will find themselves in disarray. We state that as a fact because the mobile phone acts as an extension of us in every possible sense. It is the one thing we need, to talk to someone who is not directly in front of us. It keeps us entertained as we go on our daily commute. It keeps our lives on track by not only remembering, but also reminding us of our own schedules and appointments. In times of need or emergencies, we can depend on it to help us get the right people.

The dependence that we place on our mobile phones have come to a point whereby we’ve heard people pass comments such as, I’ll probably die if I didn’t have my handphone.

But the fact is, mobile phones are such an integral part of our lives, that we’re most probably going to die with it, rather than without. Don’t you think so?

See what I told you? :/

Furthermore, the use of smartphones have become the centre of gravity for every individual; it compels and drags you into the trend! An easy swipe of the tab gets the phone started, with countless games to play, facebook to surf, videos to watch, whatsapp to chat, you name it you get it instantly! It makes it easy for the laziest of the laziest to reach out to the internet realm and the vast social network. We view it as an essential passport to transport us to the social network in a split second.

The smartphone does it all, caters to our needs, reads our tendencies, records our activities and even show us directions when we are lost. It has essentially converted us into dependent parasites that cling tightly onto it in order to function properly in our daily lives. We have become so hooked onto the technology that we need to have it everywhere we go. It obsoletes the culture of exploring and traveling and changes it into that one that waits for food to be served on the golden platter. It has effectively changed our lifestyle from manual to auto.

The smart phone phenomenon has increased the need for society to upgrade their mobile phones to that of the latest model.
Statistics shows that Singapore has a population of over 5 million people. Out of that number of people, about 150% of them has a mobile subscription to the local telcos. Now that just means that half the population here probably owns multiple mobile devices, or have multiple mobile subscriptions.

The rate of change of mobile phones happens so quickly that we can confidently say that everyone who’s reading this, personally know of people who change their mobile phones every few months just so that they can have the latest device that are equipped with better and more attractive features.

The need of changing our phones reflects on how we want to portray the image of self sufficiency and being ahead of others in terms of technology. It contributes to hyper consumerism as we are constantly buying to keep up with the latest mobile phone trends.

We are in a mad race of purchasing the latest smart phones such as the Apple iphone 4s, Samsung Galaxy s3 and Blackberry to make ourselves look more trendy and cool. This action is actually building an impression for other people to perceive us as a trendsetter so that we are able to draw more attention to ourselves as an individual.

So this leads to the question, “Do we really need smart phones for us to function?”

We were doing perfectly fine before the introduction of these superfluous gimmicks. We used to do face to face interactions more as compared to now. The more we interact physically, the better our communication skills become. These ‘smart’ phones have just undone the innate skills we used to develop via human speech. People can just text one another instantly using whatsapp without having to physically meet each other. It makes us lose the confidence in striking up oral conversations with people.


The excessive use of smart phones contributes to the gradual alienation of every individual in society.

As we immerse ourselves into intangible conversations on our smart phones, we don’t only start to lose focus of the relationship that we used to have with other people, we also tend to lose the identity we usually present to others during face to face conversations. We might be the non-stop chatterbox that we are when we are behind the phone, but that does not define who we really are in person. The technology itself has constructed a barrier between communicating parties, resulting in a fragmentation of our identities.

With the fragmentation of our identities, we are so paranoid on how the public perceive us that it inhabit a culture of us to rather text message than talking on the phone. By doing this, we are able to so-called hide ourselves behind this wall of text messages. It will also allow us to be in control of whatever information that is being leaked out from us and that will in turn shape the perception of the public towards us.

When we call someone, we start to consider whether our tone of voice is correct, will we lose our temper, will we be able to make the conversation interesting? We can easily get away from these social anxieties with the use of the various messaging services provided by these smart phones. We believe that if we continue to use smartphones to communicate, we will gradually lose the authenticity of our identities, thus resulting in a fragmentation of our identities.

We have become victims to our obsession of smart phones and this obsessive consumerism has turned us into a technology that requires consistent upgrading, no different to the computer we use nowadays.

Buying and upgrading our mobile phones are not the only thing that is shaping our identity, in fact, the choosing and buying of apps are also used to compliment our public identity. For example, if we want to portray ourselves as a responsible person, keeping up to date with happenings around the world, we can just download apps from different major publisher of newspaper. By downloading apps that calculate our calories intake and BMI, it will make us look like a person who is very health conscious.

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After all of our observations and the stories told by the three objects that were chosen by us, you can see that we strongly agree that EVERY OBJECT OUT THERE TELLS A STORY. Be it about the object itself or us as human beings. How we see it is as though objects around us were created due to our need from hyper consumerism and in turn, we need them to further enhance and express our personalities that will eventually shape us as an individual.

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