Branded as we may be

For the modern business, the digital world is nearly imperative. It shapes the brand's presence, broadens the scope of impact, and opens doors which allow that impact to extend beyond the reach of the brand's physical store/office. For the modern business, it's a no-brainer to engage heavily on social media platforms and utilize their web presence as a strategic tool for advancement and following.

But for the modern individual, the digital world proves a slippery slope into near-mechanization and inauthenticity of their humanity. (See here a lovely piece on "achieving authenticity!") Sure, brands can really profit from developing an online persona. Their identity takes shape through how they present themselves. And it's fine- good, even- because a business, a brand, is not a human being. But once an individual starts branding themselves in ways that an individual was really never meant to, they may start to lose touch with their sense of reality. Responding to insensible things like:

"You're unique!... But look like this photo and you'll receive more likes." (I especially love the, "Use this filter that I created and you can have photos that look like mine!... For $10." Honestly it's genius.)

"Your opinion matters!... But engage your audience with this tone of voice to resonate in a way that gets them to comment. More comments will improve your ratings within the platform's algorithm." (A fucking algorithm for self-promotion... What a delightful box to live within.)

The problem wasn't/isn't/won't be the mere existence of social media platforms. If we all start thinking like that, we'll eventually find ourselves entirely grumpy, hating the world we find ourselves living in and each one hiding out in our very own off-the-grid cave in ignorance of what's spinning around us-- disconnected all the same! No, the problem is that we often fail to take stock of our lives as individuals purely based on the realities of our physical experiences (perhaps with just a touch of the digital). The digital, which imho really serves best the objectives of a business and not the individual in terms of promotion and authorization, is a reality quite different from the physical. Yet now the two are nearly inseparable, both for businesses and for individuals.

And perhaps that simply is the new reality. But what baffles me is the current normalcy of things like life coaches in the social media realm, people who literally make money off of individuals literally seeking advisement on how to be more popular on Instagram. (I am also entirely aware of and entirely averse to the frequency with which I find myself using the world "literally." Thanks, Kardashian culture.) Marketing themselves, their personas, as brands-- to achieve what, exactly?

Since when do we need to sell ourselves? Since when did the individual-- a human being-- become a machine for generating quantitive value data in the form of something so trivial as a clickbait ad??

For the business, such data can be hugely directive and guide decisions when it comes to reaching clientele and connecting with consumers. That's useful. But for the individual, such data can likewise inform self-perception, evaluation, and motivation. That's troubling. In some cases, this could be seen as helpful, such as in cases wherein individuals find healing and inspiration through the influences and connections they encounter through these datas. But again, in my opinion, it usually only lends to maintaining a cycle of pseudo-achievement: the individual is caught in a non-reality, with posts as weapons, fighting to prove themselves on a daily basis to people who, 1) probably do not even care that much because, 2) they're doing the exact same thing for themselves...

It's not about answers to this conundrum. The weird mesh of physical reality and digital reality, no matter how "impending-doom" we may feel often about it, is simply part of our current reality. The only answer I can think of (apart from the evermore-appealing cave I mentioned earlier) is awareness: asking ourselves the questions which are often easier to avoid.

Personally (as a person whose career is enveloped largely in the digital space), disengaging in this current reality as an individual seems only a cop out. Sure, it's easy to rag on social media and the whole of the digital sphere for all of its toils, but of course there are positives. In numerous ways, people can find meaning in the connections and potentials for connection that they seek within the wild web. The realities of digital and physical don't seem to be totally mutually exclusive. However, as individuals it is imperative that we remain aware of their differences and the tolls each take on us.

Branded as we may be, we are not commercial operations of commerce. Hustle-driven as we may be, we must remember our own (and each others') humanity regardless of how we present ourselves in the digital world, and regardless of how cunningly we've learned to manipulate that humanity for the sake of sales.