Thursday, March 5, 2009

The "i" in iProducts

As Michel Foucault so aptly asserted, our environment and society is defined by the type of language that we use. I've written a term paper about this before, about the influx of words like website (combination of "interweb" and "a destination site") streaming into our vocabulary, words that mash together two previously separate ideas to create a new idea, a new word, a new concept, and thus a new sign in our culture.

I was thinking about this as I was reading Monday's New York Times Business section today as a class assignment (uh, yeah, I'm a little behind for my Media Industry class lately, mostly because we had a snow day and that class was canceled this week) and was looking at the word "iPhone". All of these new terms that have developed (iPod, iPhone, iGoogle, etc.) are interesting to me in the aspect of the capitalization of the name.

First of all, think about how the majority of texters and instant messengers and computer-mediated conservators in general decide to not capitalize "I" when referring to themselves when typing online. This is usually employed as a time-saving device, implying that it is much quicker to simply type "i" than "shift - i". It is commonly accepted and no one will look down on a communicator for failure to capitalize "i", or any other word for that matter. This could be one reason that companies such as Apple and Google have decided to place the lowercase "i" in front of their products, but I think it implies something much different.

While these products are homogeneous, all of them superficially alike in the way that they look and function, they also have the capability of being personalized to the liking and tastes of the owner. My iPod and my best friend's iPod and my mother's iPod, while maybe having some similar music, will never contain exactly the same content. What I choose for my RSS feed on iGoogle will be far different than even a fellow classmate who has similar interests. So the "i" in front of the word of the product or site is there to signify a sense of ownership and a quality or suggestion of personalization. While this "i" is there for owners to feel that this Pod or Phone or Google page is "mine", the capitalization that has been employed in the word speaks volumes on what is really important for hardware and software companies in this relationship between self and product. With the capitalization of the product name and not the "i", the device is given more weight within the word itself, and thus in the community zeitgeist, than the person owning the device. And in a world where technology, especially the third screen of smartphones, is increasingly becoming not just an extension but a literal part of us, this language of emphasis on the device over the user is quite intriguing to me.

I don't know if I want to jump to any conclusions, but it certainly seems for these companies (Apple and Google, especially) their importance is definitely weighted toward the subversion of the consumer under the importance of their product. But, isn't that just how it is with all corporations?

Just wanted to write a quick little note before I forget about it.

1 comment:

jonathan said...

Oh, I believe "i" is for India, because thats where all the tech jobs have gone...