With a rise in technologies that allow us to reach a widespread audience, inevitably comes an astronomical rise in social media personalities. The commodification of the self is a relatively new concept that makes people wonder about the implications of popular culture, and how they affect our businesses and lifestyles.
There are often two perspectives that prevail when we think of popular culture. On one hand, we ask ourselves, is pop culture going to ruin us? Will it dumb us down? If we think about it, our Facebook profiles are just really long self-promotional advertisements that we create everyday. If this is the case, then are we all just relinquishing ourselves to mere cogs within the grander enterprise of Facebook, mercilessly subjected to the wheels of capitalism?
On the other hand, we can argue that popular culture is actually providing us with more liberty to show ourselves to the world. The idea behind the commodification of the self is full-disclosure, as someone cannot build a brand without doing so. Although stretching the truth and glorifying one’s persona is a tactic to gain more viewers, elements of authenticity and transparency are required to make one’s followers feel an intimate connection. YouTubers who "vlog" and celebrities who Snapchat are just two examples of this phenomenon.
But it seems as if it has become the social norm to broadcast one’s whereabouts. For example, we can no longer attend concerts without people sticking their phones in the air to record - because did you really go if you didn’t tell everyone about it? One can argue that this makes people forgo their true enjoyment of the music, because they are so concerned with others’ reactions to their posting of the concert. But another can argue that by posting, these people enjoy the concert even more, after they know that there is an expectation put on them to have a great time. This raises interesting questions that plague both our observants and participants. Does the requirement to constantly update the world on what we’re doing, heighten the experience, or does it distract us from being in the moment? Does our obsession with the virtual world fail to get us tune with the real world, or does it allow us to encapsulate these moments from the real world forever, so that we can foster a deeper understanding for them later on?
Even twenty years ago, people did not create and manage digital versions of themselves - but this is a new kind of labor that is rapidly taking over the Interweb stratosphere. Millennials are now dubbed employers of the “gig economy,” as the nature of work has forever changed after recognizing the performative possibilities of social media. Even within our traditional spheres of academia, we succumb to this gaining momentum of the commoditized self. Students are buffing up their LinkedIn profiles and publicizing their achievements. Even teaching is becoming part-time, with adjunct professors who pursue their own research on the side.
It is now becoming common for people work from home, through occupations like “consulting” and “recruiting” and “blogging,” for companies that are thousands of miles away. Many people work freelance as opposed to permanent jobs. We are all becoming more involved in the “start-up” culture, labeling ourselves as “entrepreneurs” and “CEOs” of our own entities, heightening our sense of self-creation and our ability to self-market.
The eagerness for us to continuously self-brand is propelled by our perception that we have followers on our social media accounts. We assume that these followers have an invested interest in what we are doing, as all followers require a leader. And our status as “leaders” consequently flatters us to keep putting out content into these online spaces. But do these followers truly care about us, or “stalk” us as much as we’d like to think? It can be argued that these social media outlets constitute passivity, or even subversive participation from most. For the average person, the commercialized parameters of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram do not sincerely afford such creative productive opportunities, as their ability to influence is limited.
Ultimately, when analyzing social media and our relationships to it, we should strive to move away from binaries, and instead, look at their effects and ramifications from a more critical, even standpoint. We live in an era where we’re all becoming more increasingly involved with the Internet and our interactive selves. So are social media and popular culture ultimately good for us? For now, the answer appears to be: both yes and no.