Blog Post: The Self-Propagated Voice and Image
In this increasingly globalized world, each person must learn to become his own advocate and his own product. With the recession, capitalism has come to define our identity with greater visibility than any other time in recent memory. As globalization has exposed markets to global competition in the wake of the free trade and general deregulation movement of the 1980s and 90s, wages have subsequently been driven downwards, employment is no longer guaranteed, and formerly qualified and educated individuals find themselves struggling to make ends meet in this contracted economy. The result, and Reader I would ask if you or anyone you know can relate to this, is that job hunters must sell not just their replaceable labor, but must sell themselves as a product in a market that would make Marx cringe.
The commoditization of the individual seems to be the mark of a new era in the information age. Social networking, online job applications, online dating, expedited communication, transportation, and 24/7 connectivity are not in and of themselves culprits of this social evolution, but rather are facilitators of a 21st century world defined by maximization of Returns on Investment (ROI), evaluation of opportunity costs, and the pursuit of the ideal fit. Never before have individuals had as much access to information about potential employers, employees, romantic interests, or products. In a previous time, it could be argued that ‘settling’ for something or someone was more of the norm.
With current levels of access to information, the power of the individual to differentiate himself from his competition has paradoxically increased and decreased simultaneously. It is increasingly possible to create a voice and market an image (witness this blog) to an audience limited virtually only by the size of the burgeoning human population of 7 billion persons. And increasingly it is less possible to remain a big fish in a small pond. This concept of the democratizing effects of globalization was popularized by Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat.”
In response to the increased competition of the regional/global marketplace, populations have resorted to improving their level of education as they seek to present greater value to society (manifest as potential employers, spouses, or action agendas). The source of this competition is noble at its roots; many individuals who, because of societal constraints determined largely by the circumstances one had been born into, would not have had the opportunity to have their voice heard. These individuals have now become the most dynamic, if not one of the most dominant, force in their markets, political systems (as evident in the Arab Spring), social structures, and their public forums.
With access to a global market of increasingly educated and capable individuals, ‘buyers’ can afford to virtually be as selective as they please in where they choose to spend their dollar (or, increasingly, their yuan or euro). The pendulum of history has forever found itself alternately oscillating between favoring the bargaining power of the providers and the bargaining power of the purchasers of goods and services. Yet unlike any other time in history, these buyers and sellers have become diffuse and inclusive across society, while power and wealth has seemed to have consolidated in an exclusive cadre of individuals. This concentration of power is unique to history not in its manifestation, but instead in its players, which are individuals who seem to have created their own wealth, in sharp juxtaposition to the institutional players (i.e. governments, corporations), of the past, albeit these institutions were often embodied by the leadership of strong personalities.
Because of this increasingly competitive context, born from the free flow of information vis a vis the internet and mobile technologies, individuals must develop a voice and a brand in order to convince buyers of the value that would be acquired by an investment in that individual. Those individuals who fail to distinguish themselves have been drowned out by the noise of previously silenced populations.
Thus arrives the commoditization of the individual.
Individuals need to present salient aspects of their personality to corporations looking to hire, much as they need to similarly court romantic interests on online dating sites. Each entity is searching the internet to maximize their returns, most commonly on an investment of time (the second most valuable commodity in the marketplace today), and minimize their costs, which are incurred through commitments to a potentially inferior product (read: person) in a world that is now searchable by one’s precise specifications.
There has been a consequent market emphasis on the development of metrics by which these specifications can be searched for and met. Hence the importance of developing one’s own brand, designed to meet a specific market’s specifications.
There is a large opportunity cost that is PERCEIVED to exist in the making of a choice of any kind, as making a choice now precludes one from making any number of other choices that have never previously been accessible to an ordinary citizen. Indeed, capturing access to an audience (i.e. a market and its attendant choices) has become perhaps the most marketable and valuable skill one might offer in the current market.
What we might be sacrificing by our selective purchasing, however, is the value inherent in the development of any raw product, talent, or personality AFTER the ‘purchase’ is made. The greatest value brought to any relationship is the richness of mutually beneficial, common development through a shared commitment to a common cause, be it the nurturing of love in an amorous relationship, or the creation of more efficient product delivery systems.
Dear Reader, you have both the power of the purchaser and the resources of the producer. Though you may be required to market and commoditize yourself in order to remain competitive in this market, be careful that you do not devalue those unquantifiable items that most give form to our humanity, which intrinsically present the greatest value to its beholder. Do not underestimate the value of investing in self-improvement and edification. Remember to hold dear the virtues of character, integrity, honesty, loyalty, vulnerability, unconditional love, self-expression, health, and respect for others and yourself. Do not lose your ability to identify with your countryman, with your fellow man, and with ideals greater than yourself.
Those items of the greatest value are not tangible and cannot be had through material acquisition.
Yours, most sincerely,
The Baltimore Citizen
This was originally posted in Revealing Our Humanity.