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!
image courtesy of Pink Ponk.