The “nod” and other acts of rudeness in the consumer society

Valiant Over at Passionate, Kathy Sierra suggests that some consumers now  give one another "The Nod."

Sit in a cafe with a Mac PowerBook, and chances are you’ll get The Nod–that acknowledging, approving, knowing, we’re-special look.  MINI owners give each other The Nod at intersections. Display Gnome on your ThinkPad and you’ll get The Nod. But run Windows on your Dell and you won’t. (Never confuse the "I feel your pain" look with The Nod.)

To give The Nod is to recognize and appreciate another person who "gets it", whatever it is.

Kathy tells us that the "nod" tells a consumer someone thinks he/she is smart, risk-taking, indie, or fun.

I guess this is better than the "nervous glance," when consumers scope out one another’s shoes or cars with fear or envy.  Happily, the competitive consumption of the 1950s is mostly dead. 

But I have to say "the nod" creeps me out.  I don’t want to be a co-conspirator in someone else’s act of self congratulation. 

I am pleased that you believe your choice of computer or car or browswer makes you look riskier or indie-er.  But leave me out of it. The fact that we share consumer choices, put that down to coincidence. The moment you start sending me the nod for my MINI is the moment I take it to the used-car lot and see if I can’t trade it in for a Nod-proof Valiant.  No, actually, a Valiant isn’t Nod-proof.  (Valiant’s are wonderfully expressive cars, aren’t they?  The one pictured above looks as if it’s on the verge of tears.  And can you blame it?  Mind you, it has clearly found a pretty good friend in the airstream.  And thus was a children’s story born.)  Make it a Camry.  The Camry is a triumph of nod-proofery, and I’d be damn proud to drive one.

Self-by-other congratulation, it’s an ugly thing.  I can see how it works in California.  But constructing community (or an affinity) out of a non verbal gesture at a traffic light, that has to be a Californian’s idea of a lasting social bond…not to mention as big a boost to the ego as a Californian is likely to get in the 2006 calendar year. 

Now, there is a third candidate for non-verbal gifting, and that’s the big laugh of sheer gratitude.  These are not calculated, these are not self congratulatory, they are involuntary acts of reciprocity, as in "you purchased something" so funny, interesting, clever, unexpected, or imaginative, I just have to laugh out loud.  In fact if I saw a Valiant in my little town in Connecticut, laughing out loud is precisely what I would do, an act of gratitude for an act of imagination.  (Any consumer choice that makes one doubt one’s senses is a very good consumer choice indeed, especially in this part of the world where many consumers appear to hope that will have anticipated your expectation to perfection.)

Let the typology building begin.  Call it the typology for non verbal gestures that approve and police the consumer society.  We have:

1) The Nod.  (Thank you, Kathy, I hope you take my comments in the spirit they were offered.)

2) The Nervous Glance

3) The Big Laugh of sheer gratitude

4) The Gaze (I went on about this awhile ago, as below)



McCracken, Grant.  2005.  The Economics of the Gaze.  This Blog Sits at the…  August 24, 2004. here.

Sierra, Kathy.  2006.  The Nod.  Passionate.  July 7, 2006.  here

Hat tip to:

Tom Guarriello at the True Talk Blog here.

4 thoughts on “The “nod” and other acts of rudeness in the consumer society

  1. Jeepers Creepers

    Jeep owners have been giving each other the “nod” for years. Within Jeep owners there is a whole social heirarchy of who has the “cooler” vehicle. The Valiant is starting to look better and better.

  2. Pete

    [this comment came by email because the comments function was down]

    I have to disagree with you, in part, Grant. I think that which we choose to consume, and thereby what we choose to spend our scarce resources on (time, money, attention, etc.) say a lot about us. Is there something intrinsically wrong with joining a community predicated on the monetary purchase of something (Mac user, Mini driver) moreso than joining a community predicated on the acquisition of something else that takes time or energy (an athletic skill? Knowledge?)

    Is it wrong of me to feel affinity for others who have read Ulysses all the way through, like me? I think not. It tells me something about how we arrange our lives (it doesn’t tell me the whole story, but it tells me some) and how our two lives may interact. Would a Prius driver’s nod to another be as bad as a Mini driver’s? How about someone with a shared Alumni Association license plate frame? How about someone who wears your favorite team’s shirt? How about someone who shares your ethnic background (Kiss me I’m Irish)?

    Does the introduction of money into the equation somehow fundamentally change the game, or am I missing something here? It just seems that you, like I, take issue at “nods” whose goal is exclusionary, but that’s likely more contingent on how the product (the subject of the nod) is defined as a signifier. That is, Macs are defined in opposition to PCs.

    I think that’s what Kathy’s trying to get at: bad faith. But I think that this is a subset of the greater “nod” universe. And I think Kathy and you are largely saying that any of these gestures are sufficient in and of themselves to signify this sort of exclusionary move. I disagree. It’s ok to have affinity with people over shared characteristics/ethics/aesthetics. To a certain extent this is how we form communities, countries, and families, right?



  3. Grant

    Pete, I couldn’t agree more, and you have struck on the illumination of Boorstin’s book The Americans in which consumption communities are seen to assume new, and for Boorstin, alarming significance. “Americans were increasingly held to other not by a few iron bonds, but by countless gossamer webs knitting together the trivia of their lives.” p.148, The Americans. What I was objecting to was the Robert Wagner-esque look of self congratulation. I don’t care if people find or make community. I just like the smugness with which they sometime do so. Thanks, Grant

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