Do Free Things Have No Value?
And, more importantly, does that include us and our relationships?
Do you ever feel like your eyeballs are being treated like ATMs?
Wherever you direct your gaze, a visual assault ensues as brands posing as people vie for your attention. Their existence is the product they push with the single-minded dedication of wannabe celebrities.
Because some people’s lives feel worthless unless monetized.
The assumption our every brain fart is worthy of widespread acknowledgment is a collective delusion. The more self-centered we become, the more disconnected we get. The tendency to manipulate human interactions for clicks is no longer the preserve of marketing; everyone can be a brand now.
And what do brands do?
They compete with each other for a share of the market in the grabbiest, ugliest, greediest way possible.
We’re all supposed to be self-publicists.
Even authenticity, once the Holy Grail of writing, has been hijacked.
It isn’t enough to be dispassionately open anymore. If you want to succeed, you have to stage your predicament and ham up your distress to tug at the purse strings of strangers.
It isn’t enough to brave personal discomfort to humanize a societal issue. If you want to succeed, your copy has to ooze overwrought pathos and drip with self-indulgent “woe is me” to get people to react.
When every emotion is turned into a performance for the sake of profit, how are we supposed not to become estranged from one another?
How many times a day can you put human dignity up for sale with mindless memes and lousy listicles before people stop caring about people?
How can we not recoil in disgust at such barefaced piggishness?
“Life is unfair,” the misery merchants will tell you.
Instead of fostering hope, they drag us down to better exploit human vulnerability because “Misery likes company.”
But life is neutral and what you make it. For example, if you go through it with a sense of entitlement, your experience won’t be the same as that of someone who approaches it as a work in progress.
Cultures that socialize their young to compete from birth and dole out participation trophies end up with whiny adults.
In contrast, those that focus on solidarity tend to understand that collaboration is the quickest way to lift everyone up.
This, in essence, is the difference between a country that thinks it’s the greatest in the world and everyone else.
And so human life becomes quantified, a combination of metrics and dollars that leaves no room for the delicate waltz between hearts and minds.
When daily reality turns into a business deal, how can true connection happen?
Transactional love is already a thing. Some humans will withhold affection when their partner fails to perform as expected. Others, meanwhile, will pawn their privacy for short-term monetary gain and a shot at fame.
Because many of us are curious to a fault, we find it hard to look away from the spectacle of human greed played out on the internet by rapacious egos.
As a result, we’re losing the ability to interact without an agenda, to let life surprise us, and to surrender to the intangible.
All that can neither be bought nor sold is losing its value; we’re so dependent on social media many of us don’t know how to relate to one another without tech anymore.
Choosing to nurture interactions in a more personal way makes you an outlier. Why expend energy on correspondence and conversation when you can select a human for entertainment at the swipe of a touch screen?
We are what we pay attention to.
With this in mind, encouraging the production of clickbait is unlikely to advance society in a meaningful way. When self-publicists turn eyeballs farming into a business, it’s time to apply discernment.
If the internet allows mediocrity to thrive, it’s because it is what we choose to consume.
What if we stopped treating it like a trough and gorging on garbage just because it’s there? We can binge on bilge until our brains bloat, or we can use the internet for enlightenment and self-actualization.
Together, we are the internet; together, we are humanity.
Much as you cannot become a commodity or a product without your consent, you cannot become a brand unless you turn yourself into one.
You don’t have to lead or follow if neither option appeals.
Between the lines is where our shared humanness lives, so why not cherish and protect it instead of turning it into a consumer good?
And what if free meant priceless instead of worthless?
You can’t put a price tag on the meaning of life.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.