Watchful Consumers

Contributed by Robert Garcia South Carolina
December 05, 2014
Robert Garcia's picture

The idea that time equals money has been around for centuries. Frederick Taylor first popularized the theory of scientific management at the turn of the 20th century. “Taylorism” is what his theory came to be known as and it has been used as the primary model for our capitalistic society. Taylorism uses time as its main indicator of efficiency and since its implementation into our society, we as consumers have become obsessed over it.

As one walks down North Main Street in Columbia, South Carolina, one cannot help but notice the various institutions and avenues of consumption that are available. There are various banking institutions, restaurants and retail stores that we all are aware of. However, one avenue of consumption that is often overlooked is the consumption of time in relation to the space we are in. When one parks their car on the busy North Main Street they are charged a standard rate for their time based on the time of day via the parking meter. As we consume in these stores and businesses we are also consuming and participating in a mode of surveillance. We consume and participate not just through the surveillance of cameras but also, through the physical presence of the “meter maid.” They become the enforcers of time. They are the all knowing, constant viewers and trackers of time.

(1st photograph, Meter Maid checking the time on the meter. 2nd photograph, Cameras are being installed on N. Main Street)

The physical dimensions of North Main Street make it easy for our movements and use of time to be tracked. As Michel Focault mentions in his “Eye of Power”, “a whole history remains to be written of spaces- which would at the same time be the history of powers.” (Focault, 149). Any space that we take up today is measured in the form of money. The places we live and the places we consume are all measured in values determined by the “Eye of Power”. Space is no longer a free naturaly occurring thing. One must pay for space and the time one remains in that space. It is no different when one travels to North Main Street. We pay to be in that space, one cannot just walk around freely without being surveyed by the cameras or looked at by others in an odd manner. In today’s world, which is measured by time, one looks out of place if they are not using their time efficiently. One must always have a reason for being in a particular place and time. In this new age of constant surveillance and post 9/11 anxiety we are forced to “blend in” when we are out in public.

On our exercise of surveillance our group was constantly being looked at as “out of place”. As we slowly walked North on Main Street from the South Carolina State House, busy consumers rushed past us hurrying to be somewhere. As we took pictures and notes of the physical dimensions of the area I noticed more anxiety and confusion in others’ faces. One of these faces of anxiety and confusion was from the meter maid (See page 1 photo). As she wrote down tickets and checked the meters she noticed a few of us taking pictures of her. We were now surveying her, instead of the other way around. She was no longer overlooked but was recognized by us as a mode of surveillance. She is the keeper of time and space. She is paid by the city of Columbia to hold people accountable for the space they take up with their vehicles. However, what I find interesting is how at particular times in the day this space changes in value. It fluctuates depending on the demand from the consumers. At night the parking meters are no longer surveyed by the meter maids, most businesses on Main Street are close and the demand for that space becomes less valuable. The value of our “rented space” goes down in price and the idea of space becomes a natural occurring thing once again. To understand why Main Street is so highly surveyed one must understand the history of Main Street and the new revival process that has been occurring over the past few decades.

(North Main Street 1903) Source: Main Street 1903-1904. Richland County Public Library.

 

After the civil war reconstruction of Main Street began; many new businesses emerged on Main Street and began to stimulate the dilapidated economy. From photographs between 1903 and 1913 we see a change in the overall structure of Main Street. Taller brick buildings are now emerging along with the trolley system they had in place before 1910. Roads are also starting to be more definite in these photographs. Advancements on Main Street can be seen more drastically in a 1918 photograph. This photograph shows Main Street full of automobiles and shows a skyscraper on that very street.

 

In the early 1900s Main Street became a hub for commerce and war funding. Parades were often held on Main Street for those serving in the military. During this time however, Main Street and the surrounding areas were still very segregated. Most businesses located on Main Street were “whites only” businesses; while Washington Street became known as the African American neighborhood where they lived and set up businesses.

In recent decades a mass revival like this one has begun to take place on Main Street and in the Vista area. Department and specialty stores that were once on Main Street have begun to be replaced by big businesses like Wells Fargo and other banks. Main Street has become more consumer-based with huge corporate entities. What was once neighborhood stores have been replaced with hotels and new expensive, luxury living spaces like the Hub and Marriot. Main Street before required little surveillance, but now with many more businesses and much more money in circulation in that area, it becomes vital that activity is surveyed. Our behaviors and actions as both consumers and workers are all centered on this idea that time equals money. The way we manage our time has been manipulated and transformed by men like Frederic Taylor. Institutions still carry on this tradition by strategically placing values on time and space. Those surveying us, like the meter maid, study our consumerism. They know where and what time to check the meters based on our behavioral patterns.

 

Sources:

Vemer Andrzejewski, Anna. “Efficiency.” Building Power: Architecture and Surveillance in Victorian America.

Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press, 2008. 43-90.

Foucault, Michel. “The Eye of Power.” Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings. 1972-1977.

Ed. Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon, 1980. 146-165.

Main Street 1903-1904. Richland County Public Library. Image.

 

Main Street Shortly before 1918. Richland County Public Library. Image

 

Walsh’s Columbia South Carolina Directory for 1910. Charleston, S.C.: W.H. Walsh Directory Company,1910.

main_street_1.jpg
main_street_2.jpg
main_street_3.jpg
main_street_5.jpg
unknown.jpeg
unknown-1.jpeg

Comments

Response from
Grace Miyaji

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

How would you say that people respond differently to different modes of surveillance such as meter maids vs security cameras vs security guards or police officers? Are some modes of surveillance taken less seriously than others?

Holly Hill's picture
Response from
Holly Hill

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

Robert, this is a really interesting concept. It's almost eerie to think of how "space is no longer a free naturally occurring thing". Why do you think that they charge us to go "be consumers"? Is it just because they can, or do you think it serves another purpose/

Robert Garcia's picture
Response from
Robert Garcia

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

I believe it serves the purpose of mobility. These areas of consumption want us to consume but want us to move on after we have consumed. We have loitering laws that coincide with these motives. 

DarrylUSC 2015's picture
Response from
Darryl Burkett

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

In your opinion is Taylorism a good thing or a bad thing? Why?

Robert Garcia's picture
Response from
Robert Garcia

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

I do not necessarily think Taylorism is a bad thing but, I think it is important for people to understand the history of Taylorism so we can understand how our behaviors have been affected by it. 

Response from
Mark Cooper

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

Interesting post, Robert. You compare two kinds of time-space discipline that could be thought of as very different. The Taylorist one, more typically associated with work than consumption, says "hurry up, pay attention, be efficient." Then there is the kind associated with stores, bars, and restaurants, which tends to say "take your time, relax, how 'bout another round?" Do you think these space-times are equally surveillant? What's the bar's equivalent of the meter and its minder? 

Robert Garcia's picture
Response from
Robert Garcia

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

I believe both kinds of disciplines are equally surveillant. I believe when we consume at a restaurant or bar, our server is our keeper of time. We may want to stay and “buy another round” or consume more food, but this all becomes reliant on his or her ability to be efficient in their job. When consuming at a service-based business, like a restaurant, efficiency of the employee becomes the factor for how our time is managed. 

kennychildre's picture
Response from
Kenny Childre

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

Having read your article, i do agree with the statement "time is of the essence". When we're on Main Street dining, going through shops or banking, we're always being timed on what we're doing because of the use of the parking meters in the morning. It proves that our time during the day is more valuable, however it can also relate to times during the evening. Prices for meals tend to change depending on the type of day. During the day a meal can cost under $10 whereas in the evening our meals can cost up to $20 or $30 even though the value of time decreases during the day, the cost of the food can compensate for the space that's being used and also the area of which the consumer is occupying in the restaurant at night. An example of this sort of menu change is from the restaurant Cowboy's Brazilian Steakhouse. They have their menu prices change between lunch and dinner and not only do they change their prices, they also close in between services, this is so they can set up for the dinner service.

Overall, this was a really interesting article, it peaked my interest knowing that our time is costly and we are not really free with our time when it comes to being on Main Street.

Eschenfa's picture
Response from
Amy Eschenfelder

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

Kenny,

You make a very interesting point about changing menu prices. Before now I had just thought lower prices at lunch were a way of luring in more customers. I had never thought of it the other way round, ie, that restaurants charge more because it is "prime time." I think it's also worth noting that we are willing, and even expect, to pay more at dinner time. Perhaps this is a sign we have been conditioned to feel that the evening hours are intrinsically more valuable? 

cooleyh's picture
Response from
Heidi Rae Cooley

December 07, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

I can't see the images. That said, one question: Has space ever been natural? What would Foucault say?

Robert Garcia's picture
Response from
Robert Garcia

December 08, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

Focault would argue that space becomes a site that is “defined by relations of proximity between points or elements; formally, we can describe these relations as series, trees, or grids.” –Focault, Des Espace Autres. Space has been changed over time based on the changing characteristics and values a society places on them. 

alexa.garfinkle's picture
Response from
Alexa Garfinkle

December 07, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

Robert, 

I really enjoyed reading your article in regards to time equaling money. It made me think a lot about how society truly is run by finances, and I then began to think about the ways in which money is a constantly a factor in many of the decisions that I make.

Parking is also such a huge factor in life in Columbia. I can't even count the number of times that I have gotten a ticket due to not paying the meter. You would think after the first or second ticket that I might have learned my lesson? My freshman year, I got three or four within my first month of school, and did not realize that after a certain amount of time, the charge gets higher. Of course this is written in the smallest writing possible, so when I went to pay them at the end of the year, my charges were 30x what I actually owed. I also considered the multitude of times in which I make my decision of where to eat based on if parking is easily accessable. The daily parking fight in Bull garage really does put a damper on my day.

After reading your article, I thought about how you said "At night the parking meters are no longer surveyed by the meter maids, most businesses on Main Street are closed and the demand for that space becomes less valuable. The value of our “rented space” goes down in price and the idea of space becomes a natural occurring thing once again." As you say that rented space goes down in price, why would you say that some of the more expensive restaurants are open on Main Street at night? An example of a more expensive restaurant include Cowboy Brazilian Restaurant which is open for dinner from 4/5-10 Monday through Saturday, and all day from 11:30am to 9pm on Sunday. Furthermore, the price for dinner including the salad bar is $34, and $20 for just the salad bar. Another restaurant located at the intersection of Main and Gervais is The Oak Table, which is open 5-10 on Monday through Thursday and 5-11 on Friday and Saturday. The menu includes a $68 Porterhouse Steak as well as a $42 ribeye. Does the fact that parking is free encourage those to dine in this area in that they do not need to pay the meter after 6pm? Most of the business in the area are likely to close between 5 and 6, so could this also be a reason?

Alexa Garfinkle

cooleyh's picture
Response from
Heidi Rae Cooley

December 07, 2014

Re: Watchful Consumers

Thank you for the images.