It’s old hat now to say “you’re the product” on social media. Often this good word is used to explain why social media is free to access. But that only scratches the surface. After all, this idea of immaterial, self-bound goods didn’t even start with the internet, but with the 20th century that turned our psyche into an open-pit mine. Today, we’re not just eyeballs delivered to advertisers, we’re the main character of the internet’s deepest libidinal needs: the villain, the hero, the romantic interest, or the incomplete story of the day. Sometimes we become “Bae”. Sometimes we’re, well, West Elm Caleb. A viral tweet or a sudden increase in viewership for your YouTube or Twitch channel or a particularly witty Tok can see you facing thousands of people deeply invested in what you say and do next. Why is it like this?
Over the past 20 years, we have entered a phase of capitalism that thrives on products that redefine unreality. A universal fake market. It is this agora of artifice that stokes the ailments of streamers crumbling under the unbearable weight of their fans’ parasocial relationships to the “financialization of everything” that is the dark promise at the heart of cryptocurrency and NFTs, loot boxes and micro-transactions. in video games. Although the global economy still depends on real, tactile resources and products, the evolution of capitalism has demanded that more solids be invented for the sole purpose of being melted into the air.
It’s not just that you are the product. You are also the worker, the factory and the logistician. You are also the resource. And your boss is outsourced.
The nearly 40-year-old man The concept of ’emotional labor’ has been shattered by the social media particle accelerator, ensuring the phrase is used to describe, for example, the exhaustion of listening to a friend’s problems when you don’t want to. not really, instead of receiving its due explaining the relationship of our very personalities to capital. Ironically, the internet has deprecated the concept to such a degree that we now struggle to use it to name the cause of our digital afflictions.
Invented in the early 1980s by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, “emotional labor” was nothing less than a radical update of the Marxist concept of alienation – the idea that a worker was “alienated” from product of his labor rather than owning it. Except this time it wasn’t a gadget the worker was alienated from, but her very soul. For Hochschild, emotional labor was the “management of feelings to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display; emotional labor is sold for wages and therefore has an exchange value. In a nutshell, it’s service with a smile. You are selling an emotional state, you are selling your personality. You are the product.
“The company claims not only her physical movements,” Hochschild wrote of the flight attendants she studied, “but her emotional actions and how they manifest themselves in the ease of a smile.” From now on, the workers sell their personality at the same time as their body.
The great burden identified by Hochschild was that the livelihood itself was tied to the expropriation of one’s emotions by those who paid you. What she could not have foreseen was how this ouroboros of fabricated authenticity and existential doubt would escape from the titled, salaried service professions and into the ever more precarious world of the gig internet. , where it would become a way of life for millions of people. Emotional labor is inevitable in the gig economy, in which about 16% of Americans have worked; this number rises to 30% for Latin Americans. In gig economy jobs, you don’t have a boss you have to please; you have an audience of tens, hundreds, even thousands. Your “boss” is crowdsourcing.