monetizing your soul

Sometimes I think I’ve woken up on a different planet, the Bizarro World of the old Superman comics, a place that looks somewhat like ours, but all the angles are sharper, values are inverted, and all the people are below average intelligence.

For example, my immediate response to the notion that Amazon will give you some payola for tweeting about a product and including a link that someone uses to buy that product, is “this stinks.” It’s dishonorable to tell someone “I just read a great book” and get paid for it under the table – even if you actually thought it was a great book. Paid tweets should have a notice: Advertisement – the way newspapers used to label those ads that were deliberately formatted to look like news stories about cures for baldness or a breakthrough on back pain treatment. It was a way to draw a line between unbiased information and promotional ad copy.

But no – I’m just out of step. The whole purpose of human interaction is to market yourself or to market goods for others. Relationships are for marketing. The self is for sale.

In so much of Web-based self-fashioning and communication there seems to be no line drawn between “this is what I think” and “this is what I want you to think for my own personal gain.” Why don’t people feel a little bit queasy when they’re disguising a sales pitch as an honest opinion – or when earning money for what may seem an honestly held position? Oh – because there is no line anymore. Our attention – our selves – are just product to be bought and sold. That’s how we know what we and our opinions are worth.

By happenstance, I’m writing this on National Bookstore Day – a grassroots effort to support local independent booksellers. Selling your opinions on Twitter is yet another way to destroy local commerce and all the great things that independent booksellers contribute to book culture. Do you really want to do that? If so, let me introduce you to my friend, Dr. Faust. He can tell you what your soul is worth. Maybe you’re selling yourself cheap. (No pun intended.)

I’m reminded of the character played by Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner making his impassioned statement about selfhood: “I am not a number. I am a human being!” For the 21st century, here’s a new motto : I am not a brand. I am a human being!

you'll be a star

image courtesy of Pink Ponk.

5 Responses to monetizing your soul

  1. A close relative sent me the link to this essay.

    Thank you for nailing it.

    Like the medical journals finally are getting around to doing, any endorsements of a product should carry a designation of whether the librarian was paid to deliver the praise.

  2. Barbara – this is so true and I wish I had the courage to say it like you do. I’ll be sharing it with my friends though. Especially for those at the beginning of our careers, i think it’s really important to think about what kind of footprint we want to leave on the world of readers and others who care about the printed word.

  3. Jeff Scott says:

    That’s a big reason why the FCC stepped in on blogs. They need to be open and honest when they are getting paid to shill. People have to be clear they are advertising just like the general media does.

    The Prisoner has always been my favorite! I am not a number I am a free man! I am not a conduit for your pocketbook :)

  4. Scott says:

    Barbara,

    Did you see the Hari Kunzru story in the New Yorker last year about hipsters monetizing their social networks? Umm, I suppose I should add that no one is paying me to share the link.

    http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2008/03/10/080310fi_fiction_kunzru

  5. Barbara says:

    Zombies!!!! oh, that’s brilliant. Reminds me of reading a Saki story, with that ironic little mobius strip of an ending. Thanks for that.

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