A thought occurred to me as I scrolled my Twitter feed, then clicked on the Candy Crush knock-off game I play too much, and then on a YouTube video. While I may feel like a living sentient being with human feelings, in a very real way to the modern economy I am treated first and foremost as a commodity.
This is hardly an original thought. Satires and critiques of consumer culture have permeated the culture for years. (White Noise by Don DeLillo, which I just finished does it deliciously). But the difference between previous iterations of capitalism and today’s iteration is that so much of today’s economy depends on capturing our attention.
Or to put it bluntly, modern economics sees us less as individuals but as economic agents. And the more we pay attention to a certain app or social media, the more we’re maximizing profits for some gigantic corporation. So the key to keeping the profits high is to keep us hooked on our screens.
This not only goes for attention but also how we monetize ourselves as brands. To a certain extent, we all have to do this, especially those in the media world. I wish I could tell you that I’m writing right now out of purely altruistic intentions, that I only write to touch a few readers and get them to really think about who they are.
But that would only be partly true. I have to think in economic terms on some level because our world demands it. Even if this post makes me no money, it will hopefully give me visibility and clicks. And the more this happens, the more economic opportunities will pop up for my writing career.
My work is not just my work. It is a thing to sell. It is a product. It is a commodity to exchange for things of value. Like most of us, capitalism has made me a whore.
As far as I can tell, this doesn’t really bother most people, and I can completely understand why. These are the rules the world is built on. They are not going to change in our lifetime. Too much inertia has been created to suddenly reverse market forces in an opposite direction.
In a way, the free market has become our religion. We worship at the altar of idols, we worship at the altar of Instagram influencers and TikTok personalities. And like the God of Job or the Greek…