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Commercializing the Soul (Part II)

In the first installment of this essay, I basically bitched and moaned about why social media encourages people to commercialize themselves. The “influencer” does this when they create a brand out of themselves in order to sell stuff to their followers, and even the non-monetized social media person does it when they very carefully pick and choose which Insta-worthy moments make it seem like their life is whatever they want people to think it is.

Do you love me yet?

It permeates every social media village. Maybe it’s the quirky and “SO relatable” mommy page with breastfeeding tales and children posed in matching outfits but accompanied by a caption bemoaning the tantrums not pictured, or the glamourpuss with an alarming amount of makeup and fancy clothes and occasions to wear them, or perhaps the spiritual guru who puts on the image that they spend literally 24/7 wearing nothing but a macrame bra and inhaling industrial levels of sage smoke while meditating with crystals in their new age den.

To the undiscerning scroller, the extract of all this fluff can result is a potent drug with the brutal effect of wildly unrealistic perceptions, unhinged comparison to other people, and a total bottoming out of one’s self-esteem. Because why can’t YOU have this amazing life? Your life must really suck if people are living like THIS. Hint: Even those people aren't living like that. The character in their photo feed is.

In defense of social media

But what about the Everyday Joe and Jane using their social media profiles to earnestly show their family members and friends what they’re up to? A wholesome family picture at the zoo, a shot in your cap and gown because you’re hella proud of your accomplishment, or a hilarious picture of your pets? All of that seems so pure and not at all like the person is selling their soul as some bristly blog post is alleging.

And I’ll even throw the influencers a bone. What if they really, truly feel like they have a calling to share a certain skill or expertise with people because they think it will honestly be of value? And what if there’s a lot of people that do derive value and are willing to give over their hard-earned dollars in response? That influencer doesn’t have to shut up and sit down just because I or whoever else doesn’t derive value from it. That’s the beauty of a free market.

The intrigue of being able to monetize your skills is undeniable. The stylish chickadee who can make her coins posting pictures of her outfits for people who are trying to improve their own style and need fashion and shopping tips understandably should be going with the skill and passion she has rather than doing another job that feels lifeless to her. And if Macrame Bra is really good at reading tarot and people know it and want to pay for her service, then heck yeah, she should be all about it.

So what's the point?

This essay isn’t aimed at taking down individual people and saying that they’re trash and what they’re doing is trash. It is aimed at encouraging us to think extremely critically about what we’re seeing and questioning who is being real and who is a money- and attention-grabbing goblin not actually offering anything of value or substance.

Are you following people who actually make you feel good about YOU, or are you following people who make you feel like you need to buy stuff to feel as good as THEM?

What are these people saying to you? Is it something that tickles your soul or seems blatantly self-indulgent and like they’re trying too hard to justify an otherwise pointless picture? Why are they trying to sell what they’re selling?

Take your Neptunian glasses of illusion off and really think about what you’re looking at and your true motives for such.

Finally, how about you take a cold, hard look at your motives for POSTING on social media. I kind of focused on the consumption portion of the equation, but I know not everyone is a lurker like I am and sharing on these platforms is part of their life.

If you are having a special moment in your life, are you trying to photograph and post it because you want x number of likes to validate it and make it even better or are there people who actually want to see it because they care about you and what you’re up to (i.e. people you actually know, not anonymous "followers")? Are you trying to justify your unexceptional post with some attempt at inspiration or humor in the caption to make yourself feel like your life is not as unexceptional as the moment behind the picture really was? Do you love finding moments of beauty in life and sharing it to encourage others how to do the same or are you jonesing for likes so that you know that, thank God, other people think your life is beautiful too? Why are you even on the platform in the first place? Is it because you honestly do find content that makes you happy or is it because everyone else is?

Where I stand

For me personally, I’m not ready to give up Instagram because the memes are just too fun and I like to see pictures of my nephews and cousins. I am still trying to figure out how to have a normal relationship with the thing, and even how to post things myself just for fun and without writing essays like this in my mind about every single pixel and word.

My life, though precious, is unremarkable from a photogenic standpoint. I am in my house with my son 95% of the time. My interiors aren’t perfect, my outfits aren’t perfect, and I don’t make art or anything. In fact, my real interest is writing, but I find long drawn-out captions extremely irksome, and I don’t want to add to the noise or, like I suggested might be the case above, justify an otherwise pointless picture with my ramblings to gain approval. I do in a way envy people that can just post a picture and talk to their friends in the comment section and move on with their days without the philosophical crisis. It’s true: My own troubled relationship (lol) with social media gives me a bias in how I opine others’ use of it.

So there you have it. This has been my bone to pick with how people use social media, some thinking points for you to consider in reevaluating your own relationship with it, and what is arguably my own blind spot in my entire argument.

Sooo…. what do you think?

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