Probably a little much for my first real post, I know. But sometimes, we are a “little much” for each other, aren’t we?
Or is it that we are not enough?
Value is a strange concept to ponder – linguistically, it’s known as an abstract noun, something you can’t see or touch. Might this be why, as a society, we are so obsessed with it?
Under neoliberal capitalism, value is monetary; everything must make money, especially our time (and how we spend it). And since humans are often said to be social animals, it’s only natural that one of the latest and most potent developments under our economy is social media, A.K.A. Social Interaction 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Jokes aside, there’s no doubt that we are missing something when we debate the existence of this technological phenomenon. Like with many other current issues, the problematic facets of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and others are often discussed in isolation: meaning, such widely known problems as body negativity, cyberbullying and apparent increase in mental illness are being talked about not only without any linking to the system they are created under, but sometimes not even viewed in relation to each other.
Just as the way social media sites and apps are designed is greatly informed by psychology (or psychologists on the “Dark Side”, as a teacher of mine has amusingly but accurately described them), the way we use them is informed by what’s going on in the outside world. Hence, social media is neoliberal capitalism, compressed into zeroes and ones.
And what exactly do I mean by this? Well, think about the parallels. How would you describe the society we are living in? Fast paced? Competitive? You might often hear that common little statistic relating to YouTube; the fact that 400 hours’ worth of content is uploaded there every minute. There is always something happening online – and your role is to miss absolutely nothing, whatever the cost.
What about that element of competition, the newest update of ‘survival of the fittest’? The relation between this and the validation aspect of social media is slyly lucrative, because this is where social value, or social capital, comes in. Social media allows this seemingly abstract concept to shift into something monitorable, measurable and therefore exploitable. In essence, with every like, upvote, comment and share, this medium of communication represents not only the key values of neoliberal capitalism, but the workings of the so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’ under it.
Thus, those with the most likes, upvotes, comments and shares are the most valuable people, since the creator here is – supposedly – being compensated for their content (or the outcome of their supposed labour).
So, this is where the whole compensated labour thing can become a tad too literal, if you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years; YouTube, Instagram and other platforms are now deeply monetised. Whether it’s through enabling advertisements (displayed on your website / channel / et cetera), partaking in brand deals (essentially, becoming a walking advertisement yourself for a video or two), or self-promotion (sometimes endless – read: Logan Paul), those holding such job titles as the rather vague ‘content creator’ or the frighteningly transparent ‘influencer’ are practically doomed to become at least one company’s bitch (for lack of better phrasing), in exchange for their social capital to become monetary.
Let’s not forget the opposing consequences of this development, either. What of those who get the least likes, or post much less frequently?
When one has a social media account of any kind, the position of manager is unconsciously assumed. So, when our standards aren’t met, we pay no attention to these metaphorical potential employees – or, if we were already following them, they get the proverbial sack. Their labour was lacking in time, effort, or just didn’t conform to the company ethos.
We believe we are all managers, alternatively self-employed. But this is incorrect. Never mind likes: every single click of engagement generates money, far above us. We are all zeroes and ones writing more zeroes and ones into the coding of yet another machine in the factory of Modern Society, Inc.
What’s more, social media feeds into a deep-seated insecurity many of us share.
But, because of that key period of transition from when one plays on gravel and grass and slides, to when one is thirteen and can finally play with everyone, everywhere, there’s surely a separation here… right?
There is not.
We are all children vying for one another’s attention, still, and the only change is that the difference between the top and the bottom of the slide is far greater and more complicated than just the chance of a simple scrape on the knee.
The child who is a “little much” must brush up their behaviour, or they will fall or be pushed off that slide over and over, until someone else picks up a phone to film the fall from grace happening right in front of them – as long as their viewers don’t see the perpetrator. And yet, they are the one to whom the value of the situation is truly rewarded.
This is the playground in which we reside.