Now Salon.com asserts that “It’s made to look like a miniature children’s birthday cake – and, indeed, birthdays are the perfect excuse to scurry down to the local boutique bakery for a big box of them. The retro charm of cupcakes helps suppress any anxieties you might have about sugar and fat. Your mother made them! Or so the advertising suggests. Perhaps your own mother didn’t actually bake cupcakes, but the cutesy pastel-colored icing implies that one bite will take you back to your childhood. This can’t possibly be junk food, can it?
“Now let’s consider another ubiquitous presence in modern life: The iPhone, which started out as a self-conscious statement of coolness but which, thanks to Apple’s marketing genius, has now become as commonplace as a set of car keys. Millions of people own iPhones, making use of hundreds of thousands of apps, whose functions range from GPS-assisted mapping to compulsively time-wasting computer games. Your iPhone does everything you could require of a mobile phone and more, so you really don’t need the upgraded model that Apple has just released … do you?
“A cupcake and a smartphone. These objects are so innocent-looking that you could leave them on your desk at work and no one would comment (though the cake might disappear). You can easily consume them simultaneously: checking your text messages and picking at that yummy frosted topping.
“On the other hand, each of these mundane items can get us into trouble. They are objects of desire that can reinforce addictive behavior – the sort that creeps up on you when your defenses are down. That’s my subject: a social environment in which more and more of us are being pulled towards some form of addiction, even though we may be unaware of the fact and never become full-blown addicts.”