Desire and the perfect phone

This is a twittish, Vox-dot-commy article which accidentally hits on something profound.

There is a lot of talk, especially on those sorts of self-help feel-good nonsense programs that tend to air on PBS during Pledge Drive—Daniel Dennet referred to that genre as “deepity”—of the importance of fulfilment.

But on the contrary, fulfilment would be a kind of self-extinguishment.

When you were a child, or if you cannot remember think of children you have observed, do you recall how you would always ask for something? If you asked mother for milk, and she gave you milk you would ask for a cookie. When you got the cookie, you would ask for a banana, and when you got that a piece of cake and so on until she would not give you any more things.

Or perhaps, especially as you were older, The Toy. A TV ad told you that you wanted it and you obeyed. But if you got it, when you got it, it never satisfied.

What is going on here? How can it be that The Toy which seemed the-most-important-thing-in-the-world to get (this was before puberty, mind) could amount to so little? Played with a while and then abandoned.

In Girls, its often ponies.

When you get to be my age its often sexual, a specific act or a specific person. And then you get it, or him and somehow it’s just not like in the movies where the music swells and the camera swoons and the light changes and….

But the advantage to Ponies is that virtually nobody gets a pony. And so, the Desire for the pony may be held indefinitely, or at least until there begins the mania for boys (or girls). In this we begin to see how it works.

Desire is connected to lack. In Continental philosophy Lack (manque) is often spoken of in terms of “that which is beyond the demesne of language”, in other words the impossible unspeakable thing which cannot be put into words which cannot be imagined (for we only can imagine in language) and which cannot be properly experienced.

We never desire something. We desire to desire. In other words, we desire desire itself. The fantasy is more important than the thing fantasized for to obtain the thing (the fantasand?) extinguishes the lack and kills the fantasy.

We can see how this works in the film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky. In the movie, an unexplained event, possibly aliens, created a place called The Zone in which there is found a building with a Room. Those who enter the room receive their hearts innermost desire. They are, “fulfilled” in a way that is a Deeptyists wet dream. It would seem that here is the solution to all mankind’s problems, but to enter the Zone is illegal and attempted only by the desperate. The film focuses on two such desperates, lead through the Zone by a guide, the titular Stalker.

Yet… at the threshold of the room the characters hesitate.

05-At-the-very-end-of-their-quest-Stalker-Writer-and-Professor-hestate-on-the-very-threshold-of-The-Room.

There are lots of ways to analyze this. The film suggests one: they receive what they desire, not what they ask for. What they think that they desire may not be what they wish to think it to be. This is another dimension of Desire which could be a whole post to itself.

The unnamed Stalker mentions a cautionary tale of another Stalker named Porcupine whose brother died and so he broke the cardinal article of Stalker ethics and ventured into the room himself. When he got home his brother was still dead but he had won the lottery.

He hanged himself.

But another way, a subtler way is to understand what a total leap into oblivion it would be to fulfill desire, to no longer lack.

Necessity is the mother of invention, hunger was the father of agriculture and from pain was birthed medicine and on the most fundamental level it is from this Lack that springs all of civilization and identity and all that it means “To Be Human.” To relinquish Lack is to relinquish Humanity and enter the domain of That Which Cannot be Said.

It truly would be unimaginable terror.

The Entirety of Western Economics is based on this. We Lack, so we buy. We buy ostensibly to fill the lack, but in reality, to highlight the lack. We buy to use up, to discard, to move on in the never-ending cycle of masturbatory consumption.

In the eerily prophetic movie Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, Howard Beal—mad prophet of the airwaves—is summoned before Mister Jensen, boss of bosses to receive a new message for the masses. Here is the relevant part of the famous “The World is a Business” speech, embedded in full below.

Jensen: The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.

And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.

Beale: But why me?

Jensen: Because you’re on television, dummy.

But what a catastrophe this would be! No wonder Mr. Jensen’s message goes over like a lead balloon and the ratings begin to fall off (leading to one of the most perversely funny endings of any movie ever.)

Therefore, there must not be a perfect smartphone, for if there were it would be a catastrophe.

New Coke

Here is an alternative perspective on “New Coke.” Typically it is understood as a marketing failure, however the truth is that in the time “New Coke” rolled out the company was in disarray and market share was sinking.

The very thing that fatally undermined “New Coke” was that all along Coca-Cola had traded on authenticity, heritage. It wasn’t a brand of a category of beverage like “Tropicana” is a brand of “orange juice.” Coke was the category itself, Coke was not a brand of cola, Coke WAS cola, symbol and the thing symbolized.

This is encapsulated in the all-time classic marketing slogans “The Real Thing” and “Coke is It.” And now, Coke wasn’t the “Real” thing any more!

Ironically this rejuvenated the value of the “real” Coke. People were inspired to value “Coca Cola Classic” (as absolutely nobody at all ever outside the Coca Cola Company called it) all the more. Peter Jennings broke into scheduled programming on ABC to report when “Classic” Coke was reintroduced and by the end of the ‘debacle’ the company and the product both more than recovered.

Coca Cola “Classic” It soon trounced Pepsi in market share, the company’s stock rose to a 16 year high and everyone gleefully bathed in the hyperreality of the indefinable “Real” something that Coca Cola represented, again.

Even “New Coke” wasn’t all bad. A few years after the affair the Wall Street Journal reported that in a blind taste test of mostly self-identified Pepsi drinkers, New Coke still slightly edged out Pepsi.

Radioshack

It’s sad that RadioShack closed. Not because the stores were nice (that’s why they closed) but because of the historical significance of the company. There no other store that is what RadioShack was before it got the urge to suck badly at mobiles and big screen TVs. This is despite the dramatic resurgence of the ‘maker’ culture that fueled its golden age. The company’s failure to attach itself to this movement is one of the great ironies of business and one of the greatest failures of managerialism.

Death of malls

Here’s whats going to happen over the next 5-10 years. Everything tied to traditional malls will die.

Each time a “mall death” occurs it degrades the mall ecosystem and eventually the negative feedback will amplify exponentially and the 90-200 or so non-anchor store chains will all close quite quickly, probably within a few years.

Then assuming that none of the anchors die as a result of this process (for weakened anchors like Penny, Sears a significant possibility) the anchors will be robbed of the foot-traffic needed to survive and will then realize that they can’t close stores selectively because mall usage covenants irrationally impose extreme financial penalties for going out of business they’ll have no choice but to keep their unprofitable stores open and gradually bleed out in place.

These weakened institutions will not have the financial resources needed to re-orientate away from malls the way they once re-orientated towards them in the 70s-80s.