Sailaja N. Joshi

iPad, iPhone, iSelf.

In Anthropology, Erwing Goffman, Presentation of Self, Social Change, Teatime Theory, United States on April 15, 2010 at 10:24 am

Now, before those Mac rumor blogs start tweeting away at Apples latest gadget, the iSelf is not the latest Apple gadget but in fact my generations’ latest state of mind.

Before we talk about the iSelf, we must talk about my main theoretical squeeze and inspiration, Mister Erwing Goffman (I mean, who wouldn’t love a man named Ewring right?). Goffman is the sociologist who came up with the Presentation of Self saying that we are all merely actors/actresses within society. We assume roles, and much like the theater there are scripts that define our roles as well as props and costumes. These roles can be changed, based on our “set” and our ‘characters’ are never static.

Drawing from my man, Goffman’s ideas I believe the iPad/iPhone have become the quintessential prop in my generations’ existence. More than just the “Are you a Mac or are you a PC,” mentality, the iPad/iPhone have together with the iTunes App Store created the iSelf.

No longer are people displaying their diplomas or wearing white coats, we’re all now walking around with identical looking Pods and Pads, blissfully unaware of how these Pod-Pads have equalized us. No longer can we tell the elite members of society from the regular folk.

That is where the iSelf steps in.

I define the iSelf as the, “the manifestation of a person’s cultural values and ideologies through the download and use of Apple Applications of the iPhone/iPad/iTouch.” It is essentially, how we present ourselves through our ‘props’, in this case, the iPhone/iPad.

The crucial point of this observation is; when and how are companies going to utilize this iSelf?

By taking a look at a person’s applications, I think companies will uncover a deep seeded cultural ideals that even the owners may not have know existed.  I’m sure that Apple is out there, working on a logarithm to analyze all this information, but truth be told they need ethnography. Humans are after all, social creates and therefore developing an understanding of HOW people are downloading their Apps and what in means for them, I think Apple will gain an even further edge on the market.

And so, the next time you download an Application onto your Pod/Pad/Touch, as yourself, what does this REALLY say about me?

  1. Good read. but again i think sometimes there is a fine line between making an observation and placing unnecessary importance on objects. this is that time. While I agree that the ipad/ipod/iphone has become a cultural icon just as much as it is a technological one, i believe that behaviors as to what apps one downloads cannot be given enough importance to validate the attribution of its use as a strong statement to speak on behalf of one’s own culture. mainly because its use ranges from user to user. woudl you say the use of your computer shows ur strong cultural and behavioral traits? I doubt it, because if that were the case any tool used to pursue further information or accomplish a task can be linked to one’s culture, and well thats just too much information and too much data to be interpreted as such. rather, i think the more accurate statement is that you can understand some consumer behavior through people’s use of the iphone, but i dont think i would give my iphone (and yes i have one) as much importance as this guy makes it out to be. although i do find his view on how we “act” and follow a “script” quite refreshing. I think that is the best takeway from this read, that we let society sometimes dictate or influence the way we live as an individual based on external expectations. and i hardly think the next time i download an app i will analyze how that reflects my personality…i mean if i were to download a unit converter because i needed to convert something…can that really be likened to my cultural and social values? i think some things are best left un analyzed.

    • Hi Aditya-

      As always, its a great to have you on the blog. I think you might be wrong though about the whole can the Apps tell us about our culture. The fact is, what we say we do, what we actually do, and what we REALLY do are completely different things. We very rarely say what we’re thinking, do what we want and act in the way in which we really feel is ‘right’. Much like my man Goffman says, we’re all ‘players’ in this world and are script is well, scripted by our cultural ideologies.

      As an anthropologist, we learn that its not until you peel back several layers of ‘culture’ that you begin to understand core values and beings. I think the iPad/Pod is an amazing place to start that investigation. Its going beyond me saying, “Oh, you like to cook b/c you have an Epicurious App.” Its about seeing those Apps and then developing connections between what they mean for you and what values they might represent.

      I understand where you’re coming from as a Businessman, perhaps the idea that you can understand someone just from their Apps is crazy. As an anthropologist though, I’m sure its bound to happen.

      Thanks for your posts!!!


  2. Aditya,

    If you are looking for the “elite members of society” simply look around at all the people with iPhones etc. You have found them! These devices are “equalizing” only among the people with already enough resources to afford the data so crucial to their operation and value. Perhaps that day will come (much as it has with mobile phones), but for now you will only be able to analyze a very narrow band of society through its apps.

  3. Aditya,

    As an anthropologist myself, I agree that apps can be the subject of analysis for the simple reason that anything can be analyzed. the question is more how do we analyze them? how do you interpret them? To what do would you link them to? That’s where your problem starts. The same app can be used in different ways; it can have been downloaded by mistake and can mean something totally different to one person to another. The danger here is to essentialise this little tiny piece of human behavior. As you know everything depends on the context. It is the system, the structure that gives the meaning to units, in themselves the apple apps have no meaning whatsoever.
    I get often (but not always) the impression that social sciences are too quickly applied for fast business applications. What do you think?

  4. Hi Elise-

    Thanks for stopping by! As a business professional myself (and anthropologist) I have seen first hand the need for social sciences in the business world. Too often companies rely only on quantitative numbers when assessing a new product or marketing campaign which is just superficial. Marketing especially can benefit from anthropological techniques such as ethnography, which provide them with a deep understanding of their consumers.

    In term of the Apps, take a look at what Gravity Tank is doing, they’ve come up with some interesting stuff.

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