I was having dinner with a friend this past weekend in a trendy Palo Alto restaurant, and we were talking about Adam Smith and Karl Marx, as you do (well, you do if you’re political scientists). I looked around the room at one point and when he asked me why, I told him I was looking for somewhere wearing an Apple Watch. I figured I was in was a highly likely place to see one. Sadly, I didn’t, but I couldn’t see every diner’s wrist, so I retain hope that the Watch was there, lurking, out of my view.
I wonder if we’ve reached Peak Commodity Fetishism with the Apple Watch. I hope so, because it would be depressing to think we could go further. Commodity fetishism is a term coined by Marx to describe the condition in which objects are valued for something other than what they are used for and the labor that inheres in their production. The first paragraph of this overview is a good, succinct summary of the concept.
Many people are aware that Apple makes most of its vast profits on its hardware (although I would argue that its software is increasingly important, even if indirectly, because of the way it ties people into its ecosystem and the way each software/app purchase fuels other purchases). But unlike many other makers of things, Apple’s things are esteemed not just for the usefulness of the products and their ease of use, but also for the way they look. Design is enormously important to Apple because its customers value it so highly. One might argue that Steve Jobs valued design for its own sake, but at this point it can’t be disentangled from Apple’s marketing strategy.