Extending the mind: Digital devices and the transformation of consumer practices
Editors: Cochoy, F., Hagberg, H., Hansson, N. and Petersson McIntyre, M.
Artificial intelligence that can change the way we live is less of a future possibility and more a present reality. Social Robots that help the elderly, play children’s games and learn from their environment in order to adapt and interact with humans are some of the latest breakthroughs (The Guardian, 2015). Such technological developments may make some people feel uneasy - perhaps a car’s cruise control function or robot vacuum cleaners are more familiar robotic technology advances that rest more comfortably with people. Even less extreme, but much more common, technological advances sees the use of digital devices and software applications being adopted by many and integrated into their everyday lives. For instance, wearable technology and fitness and weight loss apps that track performance, set goals and provide progress reports were amongst the most popular smartphone apps of 2015 (Techradar, 2015). GPS on smartphones is offered via Google Maps so there is little need to know where you are going or prepare a journey in advance or even be able to read a map accurately. Apps such as Timehop remind users of specific memories once posted on social networks, providing personalized material to reflect on and be nostalgic about. In relation to consumer practices, a wide variety of applications are routinely used via smartphones, tablets and laptop computers, and are consequently changing the way that people engage in practices and the ways that people consume more generally. For instance, 100 million monthly active users of Pinterest search, pin and share things they desire (Fortune, 2015) and can make purchases of these objects via the site. Nearly 50% of people reported using their smartphones while shopping for food and a third use their smartphones to find recipes as a matter of routine (Allrecipes.com, 2013). What these examples tell us is that there is a growing delegation of everyday practices to technology and it is clear that consumption has been altered and enhanced by such advances in digital technology. In this chapter we explore the growing digitalisation of consumer practices from a perspective of how human and non-human actors come together in configuring such practices. We draw on practice theory – an accepted and growing area of work in consumer research – to introduce the foundational concept of human-non-human hybrids. We then focus particularly on the ways in which consumers’ cognitive abilities are apparently extended by and externalised to digital technologies and use the concept of extended mind (Clark and Chalmers, 1998) to develop this line of thinking. In particular, we focus on consumers’ knowledge, imagination and memory related to a given practice or consumption object. To do this, we draw on data from a large, on-going study related to digital virtual consumption conducted over the last eight years, which enables us to consider how digital devices and the various platforms and software applications that are accessed through them are integrated in and consequently transform consumer practices. We identify the kinds of new work that is required from consumers in terms of using digital technology – i.e., developing skills, knowledge, competence and a commitment to their use. We also consider the implications of this for practice and for the consumption experience.