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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dances with Dial-Ups

The advertisement is from the January of 1983 edition of Byte magazine. Byte began in 1975 and grew alongside the personal computer’s success with readership piquing in the early 1990’s. It covered development in computer technology, offering analysis of not just MS-Dos and Mac, but the industry as a whole. The advertisement is aimed at a relatively confined but influential class of consumers, baby-booming yuppies and sentimental bourgeoisies. The target audience is people who are tech savvy and affluent, but it also latches on to the discourse of family values. Dial-up Internet becomes a tool for talking to mom or having dinner parties without dishes.
Furthermore, the advertisement depicts a happy couple sitting comfortably at home in their robes. The environment is rather decadent but not toned down enough to seem realistic. The photograph is taken from the perspective of the computer, turning the device into a part of the home environment rather than just a stale piece of business technology. At the same time the family is sitting before a book case and grandfather clock, the computer becomes a sensible tool for the upper-middle class, a piece of luxury but nonetheless serves utilitarian ends. The woman stretches out her arm holding a single empty wineglass; this object becomes an impregnated metaphor for how viewers interpret the ad. Dial-Up becomes a glass to be filled up by whatever you desire, it can be a little bit of anything. The image depicts a living room with a bookshelf, a rocking horse, a light, a clock, and family photographs, the internet contains a little of everything.
The inspirations of the advertisement are several fold; a sense of possibility and ease, ambition and relaxation, familial sentiments and time-well spent. It provokes a sense of curiosity and awe surrounding the new friendships and connections that can’t be forged by the new technology. Yet it also speaks in a way that is relaxed and rather informal for such a radically new device; “(we call it Email).” The people in the photo are wearing a guilty smirk, smiling with their mouths closed and their faces glowing, perhaps it was the wine. Or maybe it’s that the Internet seemed like such a privilege and sign of status at the time that it made one prideful in an almost indulgent way.  The image inspires its audience to buy its product, Compuserve. Buying such a product holds serious social potential. It is a tool for maintaining the most immediate relationship, the relationship between yourself and your mother and for the most superficial ones, for the people who are not worth doing dishes for. The advertisement also is meant to relax your concerns about the Internet, it is easy to use. One can simply sit back in their pajamas and “even use a scrambler, if you have a secret you don’t want to share.”
Moreover, the advertisement does appeals to stereotypes of mid-aged well to do’s, that they want to be on the cutting edge but only in order to either make life easier, augment the pleasures I already desire, or increase my social status. While, these desires may resonate almost universally, the living room the photograph is taken in, the clothing the people are wearing, and the magazine its from construct a particular identity that is self-consciously privileged. The advertisement toes the line, it both pulls you in, offering you an intoxicating glass, yet leaves it empty enough for you to fill it with your own rationalizations, dreams, or temptations. It does assume that the audience is very conscious of its consumption habits rather than conspicuous and thus weaves together the picture with its text to dispel any myths or questions that maybe in the back of your mind. The ad has to introduce an entire new concept more than its particular model or object.
Yet, the ad is also catered specifically to a good-looking couple, one that cares about family and social relations, keeping up with the joneses and appearances in general. One of its aims is in part to distinguish this type of computer owner from the glasses wearing geek, from the NASA men or the IBM Business types. It continues the drive to make the computer personal rather than a disembodied object.

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