Everything has a price tag these days. How do we decide what has value? In a culture where anything can be acquired for a sufficient amount of money – land, real goods, art, ideas and other intangible objects, even integrity – how, or perhaps why, do we insist on assigning a flat numerological factor to anything?
Anil Dash asserted yesterday that having a million Twitter followers isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. How Kim Kardashian gets paid $10k per tweet, I have no idea, but it seems to me this is where the entire followers system falls down.
Commerce demands an objective sense of value. There isn’t a lot of bartering going on in western culture, at least on the business scale. Set prices help us get some indication of what went into the production of a product, or what will come from the hiring of a service. We look at ten nearly identical computers and decide value based on brand and price tag. We look at quotes from contractors and decide based on price and reputation. Often, we can trick ourselves into thinking it’s entirely a play for getting the most value out of each dollar we spend, but again, by what method do we demarcate the value of each dollar we spend?
Think about this: You have some vacation coming up, and you’ve got a few options, assume you have the budget for any of these following, and for the sake of argument, let’s say they all cost the same amount of money. The less pressure here the better. Here we go:
- You can spend a few thousand dollars going to an all-inclusive resort with your partner, have an excellent week of recovery and recouping from the stresses of a busy season at work;
- You could instead rent a car and a digital SLR camera, take a road trip across the country, load up on breathtaking pictures and souvenirs, and fly back home loaded with more booty and less of a headache;
- Or, you could fly to another continent (assume there’s a seat sale) and backpack for a week, stay off the grid, maybe take a few pictures and enjoy some exotic food.
How do we decide between these three obviously appealing options? With a lot of consideration, if we’re smart. But it requires something western culture often fails to train into us; a sense of relational value. Which one of these three dream trips gets our vote requires a lot of bartering with ourselves. Perhaps I don’t like taking pictures. Maybe my partner has a desperate yearning to see Spain. Or maybe we’ve done one or two of these options, and all we’re left with is the third.
How we make these decisions relies heavily on personal value, and that’s the kind of thing business and commerce is simply not set up to handle. Here’s the kicker; neither is much of what we do online.
There’s a pendulum effect we can see clearly when we’re dealing as a society with new modes of communication. Just like learning a language, adapting to a new process goes through a number of stages; incomprehension, misunderstanding (or incomplete knowledge), savvy, exploitation, and fluency. We go through various fields of “I can’t do this” to “Others can’t, I win by default” and settle in the middle on “everyone can, hooray!” – but it takes time, and critical mass, to get the pendulum to stop, and a lot of interference to ensure it stops in the middle ground. That’s objective value, that’s where we are right now. Everything online is a transaction. You follow me, I follow you. I tweet, you retweet.
It’s not conversation. It’s not bartering. It’s exploitation, and it’s right in the middle.
Oddly enough, incomprehension, savvy and fluency are all on the side of socialisation. Incomprehension and misunderstanding fuel exploitation, and demands objectivity to be corrected; this is a good thing, because objectivity is great for commerce, but very bad for people. It doesn’t leave any room for personality. And with all of the hype around the human business and personal brands – all of this oomph moving us away from the middle, away from mediocrity and towards individualising the world, we need room for relational thinking. Without which relationships are transactions, and transactions are nothing but ephemeral.
On a bizarre side note, this happens to be entry number 100 on this blog.
Photo by Richard0