Some (annoying) thoughts on Commodification

If you’ve read this blog or you know me at all, you know that I love being a big nerd.  I love being an academic.  Hell, I love being a know-it-all and acting superior on occasion.  But at the same time, there are times I wish I could turn off my academic brain.

For example:

I know a lady who makes and sells all sorts of natural remedies.  Among them the best damn thing I’ve ever found to work on bruises.  I get a LOT of bruises.  And this stuff legitimately helps them heal faster.  It also works with scars and burns and just about everything.  (No, before someone asks, it’s not arnica.  My experience is that arnica really doesn’t do anything to help with bruises—it helps with inflammation and a little bit with pain, but that’s it).

Here’s where it causes me a little trouble:  She claims (and I assume it’s true though I haven’t done any research into it) that it’s base on traditional Native American medicines.  And if she’s Native American she doesn’t openly identify herself as such.  I took an entire class in heritage and cultural property which examined issues like this and raised some problematic questions.  It could be argued that this woman is profiting from centuries of research by Native Americans and she’s not sharing profits with them.  They didn’t get to patent their medicines like pharmaceutical companies, much less extend said patent like said companies are getting to do more and more.  (I’m sure Cammy would point out that if these medicines are as old as claimed, any patents on them would  have long since run out anyway.  That’s not really my point.)

My point is that every time I buy this stuff—and I’m going to keep buying this stuff because it’s awesome—this annoying little pretentious voice in the back of my brain yells at me for participating in the commodification of indigenous culture.  And since I clearly don’t care enough to stop, I just wish I could shove a sock in its mouth and make it shut up.

I’m Not Sure I Want That Apple….

I’m facing a bit of a dilemma.  My Mp3 player is starting to act quirky and I fear the time to replace it is coming sooner rather than later.  The player is very simple.  It cost me all of about $35 when I bought it, which was great.  I needed a low-priced device to play MP3s–my budget was limited and my needs were simple:  play music.

But at this point in my life, I have a bit more disposable income and I can consider something slightly more upscale than the stripped down little player.  While I’m fine with just seen the plain text of the artist name and song on the black and white display, I wouldn’t be opposed to a little larger display that’s easier to navigate.  Which brings me to the real dilemma:

Do I want to sell out and get an iPod?

I’ve not consumed the Apple Kool-Aid, so I know that these devices are not without flaws which are to be considered in evaluating them against non-Apple devices.  But my problem is that Apple brings with it other baggage.  Baggage that shouldn’t matter in a detached and logical evaluation of functionality of electronic items, but which ultimately thrusts itself into every attempt to look at any item bearing the Apple logo.  It’s baggage that I used to find mildly annoying but which has become so onerous that I actually find it repulsive enough that I wind up dismissing Apple out of hand if I’m not careful.

That problem with Apple is its users.

It pains me to say it, but it’s like dealing with a friggin’ cult.  Even people that I consider close and dear friends seem to morph into pretentious monsters under the influence of these otherwise fairly inoffensive and innocuous electronic implements.  And it’s really not the device itself, it’s the culture that builds up around them.  If I get told that someone has an “Ap” for something during a dinner conversation as they whip out that iPhone, I will feed that someone their teeth.  And the iPad hype?  I was fine with the release hoopla, until an acquaintance, wielding his shiny new iPad (which, incidentally, if his financial bitching is to be believed, he really couldn’t afford–just like he can’t afford the iPhone he stood in line for this week), proceeded to mock, and deride netBooks in the face of the power of the iPad.  Beg pardon, gentle readers, but….Fuck that.  I happen to love my little Asus Netbook (she’s named Inara, btw) and while the iPad to which I was subjected to a forced introduction (I think it might actually have been an attempted indoctrination) was a nifty gizmo with some neat interface features, it could in no way, shape or form replace my Inara, who, ya know, has a keyboard–something I find essential for the amount of typing I do.  She also plays movies, surfs the net, plays Mp3s, games and does just about everything else an iPad does.  Yes, she might be slightly thicker than an iPad, but for that keyboard, it doesn’t matter.  And no, Apple users, the touch pad does not work for me.  I actually had a conversation with a computer engineer about this and he explained that touch pad interfaces, while vastly improved, are just not quite there for extensive typing like I do.  And apparently the frustration is compounded when one types quickly, which I do.  So, ya know.  Just not my thing.  Also, when I finally decide I want to ditch the Win7 Starter than came installed on Inara?  I can easily slap on Linux.

It’s a shame really, because about the time when Apple users started in on the widespread superiority kick is also about the time when I was finally starting to give Apple some real respect.  When the Mac OS when to X, which was a Unix based system, my opinion of Apple went through the roof.  I was starting to think of purchasing one.  The price has always been an issue, but I came close.  And, of course, even before the change to OS X, I was able to acknowledge the important role Apple played for film and graphics folks.  I fully expect that if I start working more with video I will look more seriously at Apple for a desktop machine, specifically for the power in video editing at a reasonable price.

But it’s hard to remember that when I find myself surrounded by the Apple-junkies who behave as though living without an Apple device puts one in the dark ages, and to even consider a similar device from anyone else is tantamount to pure barbarism.  I actually had someone look at me like I was a circus freak when they found out that not only did I NOT have an iPod, I had SOME OTHER BRAND.  Apparently it’s better not to have anything at all.  Who knew?

So with this kind of brand-cultism surrounding the iPod, I’m wary of them.  It might be a great device, but I live in fear that I’ll either spend that extra (because, let’s face it, Apple’s prices can always be beat, unless you’re comparing their video/audio/graphics software vs. other professional level systems, then they’re a friggin’ bargain) and not feel it was worth it, or, even if it is worth it, that I might, in possessing one of these items in public be mistaken for one of the members the pompous, brand-drunk tribe who consumed the Apple kool-aid.