Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On the cultural ambiguity of technological objects

Are We Worthy of Our Kitchens?
Christine Rosen

"[H]igh-end appliances promise to help us overcome our weaknesses. Whether our failing is sloth, inhibition, ineptitude, or simply lack of discipline, the technologies will make it easier to master our domestic vices and cultivate our domestic virtues. Perhaps this is why high-end appliance manufacturers use epic language to describe their wares: to fortify our belief in the technology’s ability to conquer life’s crises and unleash life’s pleasures. We live in an age when appliances have histories and legends, and when we are expected to value the domestic technologies we purchase for more than their practical merit. Buying a particular stove like the Aga is buying into a particular 'lifestyle,' complete with magazines and social networks. As a result, domestic tasks such as cooking and cleaning are not merely the drudgery of daily life, they are also extensions of the self...

So what benefits do these appliances bring? Do more advanced domestic technologies save us time, make us happier, expand life’s pleasures, or liberate us from life’s drudgeries? Our domestic technologies might make us more efficient, but they also impose higher standards of domestic performance. In some ways, this is obviously correct. Even the hardest working homemaker and her fleet of servants in ages past could never match the cleanliness made possible by certain modern machines. In the war against dirt and germs, times are clearly better. But the modern kitchen, for all its progress, tells a far more ambiguous story, one that is deeply revealing about the relationship between domestic technology and domestic happiness..."

(The kitchen illustration is from a wonderful old Catholic primer found on Flickr.)


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