Saturday, March 29, 2008

Self-commodification & blogging

It's nothing new but somewhat amusing: an article on literary tastes and dating strategies in the new york times review.

This is something that troubles me a lot about social networking sites and by extension a lot of relationships in the online and sometimes even in the offline world. The idea that a list of someone's interests and hobbies will give you a picture of who the person really is and that is sufficient to base your relationship on. I don't know, to me, it just feels like an exercise in self-commodification, not much better than judging a person based purely on physical attributes - you are basically still reducing human beings to fungible commodities. (There are lots of proust-lovers, one certainly replaceable with others if that's the only criteria.) I know those who consider themselves "real" and enlightened readers will bristle at this idea of reading being reduced to another act of cultural consumption but I think it is a valid assumption in most cases.

It is also not surprising that the article uses the phrase "self-branding" to describe what is going on. It is rather interesting and ironic that more and more advertisers and marketeers are trying to create a "personality" that goes with a branded commodity. An mp3 player or a phone from apple or nokia isn't just a commodity - fungible and replaceable - but rather it comes packaged with a unique personality which of course can become an extension of your own only if you buy and own it.

There is also another thing about this whole trend which makes me sad - this obsession with "compatibility" and the extremely shallow way in which it is defined. In our time it has certainly become much easier to be sure of "compatibility" before you enter into a relationship. It makes you wonder why then is it that sustaining stable, lasting and fulfilling relationships has become so much more difficult? And what really happened to that old fashioned romantic idiom - opposites attract? The stuff of so many romantic comedies of Hollywood golden age?

Sociologists taking their cue from the theories of Marx and Weber believe that commodification of self and inter-personal relations is inevitable in a capitalist society. That is true I think, though still that doesn't mean one can't resist the impositions of self-definitions from the outside even if it only results in negative definitions. I am not what I own, or what I buy or what I read or at least not just that. As Ulrich (or Walter perhaps?) says in The Man Without Qualities that making these lists one will end with qualities without a man. The trouble is you really can't define a man with qualities...

I am wondering where will blogging fit in all this. Is it another exercise in self-commodification and self-advertising? It probably is but at least certainly much better than those networking sites...

3 comments:

Cheshire Cat said...

But aren't human beings, for most purposes, fungible and replaceable, and yet endowed with unique personalities? Then why not objects?

It seems that these criticisms are predicated on some notion of a transcendent self.

Alok said...

fungibility and uniqueness are contradictory notions... anything you can reduce to a set of characteristics is fungible...

yes sometimes this old fashioned humanism does seem like an act of faith. much of modern science (specially biology) and philosophy is built around discrediting these notions of unique self. but this is still hard to live by..

shiva said...

"And what really happened to that old fashioned romantic idiom - opposites attract?"

Yes, in this age of compatibility assessment before entering into a relationship, that is one question that doesn't seem to have any answer.