Can the Sub-Object Speak?: Siri and the Commodification of Things

Curator's Note

When Apple Inc.'s new intelligent software assistant and knowledge navigator, called Siri, was announced as part of the new mobile operating system to be launched with the iPhone 4S, it was billed as the most advanced voice recognition technology available to consumers of cellular devices, a small step for man in the march toward artificial intelligence. Little wonder, then, that advertisements promoting Siri highlight the dependence of the program's functionality on human interaction. Siri, we are led to believe, exists solely to serve her human masters, whose behaviors are, in turn, dictated by the demands of the marketplace. A perfect synchronicity of product and productivity. 

From the perspective of object-oriented ontology, however, Siri cannot be reduced to utility for tech-savvy teenagers or corporate jetsetters. Instead, its being exists on equal footing with other beings, while its myriad abilities to appear and act in different ways are inexhaustible by encounters with other entities. Moreover, object-oriented philosophers hold that interactions, or relations, between objects are limited by each object's finite experience of reality, meaning that being of one object is never completely representable by the nomenclature of any other object to which its qualities are prehended. Object-oriented thinkers call the retainment of a reality in excess of any relation withdrawal.

What does this mean for Apple's dulcet toned personal assistant? At least three things. First, at the ontological level, Siri and its users are objectal peers. Second, its agency cannot be defined by commodification, despite the typical circulation of both the program and its purchaser within capitalist socioeconomic assemblages. Third and finally, the commodity of Siri exists apart from both Siri-in-itself and its patrons, as a fictional object whose agency has been appropriated and superimposed upon real objects. Viewing a commodity as an object that satisfies human desire, one can argue that the usurpation of a commodity's agency by a capitalist assemblage involves the exploitation of an imagined, often manufactured desire, such that the fictional commodity comes to supersede the being of the real entity in radiance. 

In other words, Siri is made into a sub-object. As the finitude of its commodified counterpart is erased in the mind of the marketplace, leading buyers to believe that they can "get their hands on" its recessed essence, the inner being of Siri is simply marginalized. And isn't this the horror of techno-capital culture, that an infinite being-for-profit will supress the contingecy of finite experience? 


I really enjoyed your analysis of Siri, especially as it applies to Apple's advertisement and capitalist-contexualization of the new feature.

I have two initial thoughts. First, I wonder how your argument works in relation to other iPhone "applications" and/or "services." I ask this because, although Siri is discussed in advertisements as an advanced AI, as a "personal assistant," etc., there are many things Siri shares with other applications and/or background processes on iPhones (functionality, abilities, limitations, connectivity, and ... ) If Siri is a sub-object, is she a sub-object within the context of an assemblage of other, intelligent sub-objects that are part of the "thing" we call the iPhone?", or...

Second, and more on the comical side, I'm reminded of an hysterically funny College Humor iPhone commercial they recently created about Siri. I wonder if this advertisement offers additional insight about how Siri is framed culturally as more than an Object and more like a Thing, while, simultaneously, she remains confined to a capitalistic service-oriented socio-economic class based on her inabilities to escape from the confines of human-users.

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