Discourses of technology consumption: Ambivalence, fear, and liminality

Margo Buchanan-Oliver, Angela Gracia Bondesto Cruz

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Why are consumer narratives of technology consumption fraught with ambivalence (Mick and Fournier 1998), identity tensions (Schau and Gilly 2003), anxiety (Meuter et al. 2003; Mick and Fournier 1998), and even fear (Clarke 2002; Helman 1988; Virilio 1997)? What is it about technology consumption, an arguably everyday experience in the context of increasingly ubiquitous digital, biomedical, information and communication technologies in today s technology-intensive markets (John, Weiss, and Dutta 1999, 78), that evokes such primal reactions in consumers? In the seemingly banal act of consuming technology, what exactly comes under threat? To explore these questions, we turn to the emerging discourse of posthumanism as articulated by Campbell, O Driscoll, and Saren (2005), Giesler (2004), Giesler and Venkatesh (2005), Schroeder and Dobers (2007), and Venkatesh, Karababa, and Ger (2002). Significantly, posthumanist discourses challenge the underlying assumptions of the predominant information processing paradigm, which frames the majority of research on technology consumption (e.g. Bettman 1979; Bettman, Luce, and Payne 1998) and focus on how consumers mentally process the functional benefits of technology products. Within this paradigm, the following metaphors of consumers and their technologies remain unquestioned: firstly, technology is a positive enabler, secondly, the consumer is a disembodied consciousness, and thirdly, technology is extrinsic to human identity. In challenging these prevailing metaphors, the emerging posthuman paradigm instead acknowledges multiple and complex framing views around technology consumption which are already widespread in popular imagination and other academic disciplines. In particular, the concept of liminality provides a potent deconstruction of these metaphors. Liminality refers to a hybrid condition characterised by ambiguity, indeterminacy, contradiction, incoherence, and blurring of boundaries. Within popular culture, the genre of science fiction sees classic literary texts (e.g., Gibson s (1986) Neuromancer , Asimov s (1967) I, Robot , Huxley s (1955) Brave New World ) and popular films (e.g., The Terminator , Blade Runner , and The Matrix ) representing a liminal vision of human-machine interactions alongside their psychological and socio-cultural repercussions. These rich discourses are similarly well-entrenched in academic disciplines ranging from media and communications studies (Turkle 1984, 1997) to cognitive neuropsychology (Clark 2003), to cultural studies and critical theory (Balsamo 1996; Shilling 2005; Stone 1996). These liminal visions, however, are fraught with pervasive anxieties and tensions. Virilio (1997, 20), for instance, in his account of the social destruction wrought by information technology and global media, vividly articulates a fear of technology in depicting the catastrophic figure of an individual who has lost the capacity for immediate intervention ? and who abandons himself for want of anything better, to the capabilities of captors, sensors and other remote control scanners that turn him into a being controlled by the machine. In a similar vein, Woodward (1994) writes that most of us fear the future prospect of frailty as a cyborg, hooked up ? to a machine. Even though such texts often draw on spectacular imagery to underline the implications of technology consumption, they have significant impact on consumers lives as they infuse and inform the wider circuits of meaning (McCracken 1986) which shape the way consumers imagine and interact with their technologies. While previous studies have examined visual representations of posthumanism as represented by the figure of the cyborg (Campbell et al. 2005; Schroeder and Dobers 2007; Venkatesh et al. 2002), our approach is more theoretical. We present the concept of liminality as a recurrent theme within interdisciplinary theoretical discourses of technology consumption and explore its key thematics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Consumer Research
EditorsRohini Ahluwalia, Tanya L. Chartrand, Rebecca K. Ratner
Place of PublicationDuluth MN USA
PublisherAssociation for Consumer Research
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes
EventAssociation of Consumer Research annual conference 2011 - St Louis, United States of America
Duration: 13 Oct 201116 Oct 2011

Publication series

NameAdvances in Consumer Research
PublisherAssociation for Consumer Research
ISSN (Print)0098-9258


ConferenceAssociation of Consumer Research annual conference 2011
Abbreviated titleACR North American Conference 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited States of America
CitySt Louis

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