Surprise, Surprise: My Social Life Is Just Another Commodified Product

This week’s reading, Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World by Ulises Ali Mejias, discusses the contradictory goals and paradoxical inequality that forms from social networks. He also acknowledges the fact that the social communication in which we all take part is simply another commodity to be bought and sold.

In this context, networked participation itself can be narrated as an expression of the spirit of capitalism: it is fair (contributes to the common good), it promotes security (contributes to the well-being of the economy and therefore our well-being), and it is exciting (it offers liberation through new opportunities for growth). The more we participate in digital communication networks, the more this ideology is reinforced. To paraphrase Deleuze, communicative capitalism does not stop people from expressing themselves but forces them to express themselves continuously (Mejias, 21).

By introducing the fundamentals of capitalism, it provides a context with which to relate social networking to easy marketing strategies. Rather than a product designed to “better oneself,” social network users provide the advertisement. My exposure to social networks might even be a larger push to “better myself” through the act of comparison.

Social networks allow us to document every detail about our daily lives. Through the constant updates, we are reminded of what we have yet to accomplish. Fashion trends, hair styles, and everything that is involved in physical representation, are translated from status updates to ads right on our newsfeed supplied by our peers.

With this realization, it doesn’t surprise me in the least to hear that network conglomerates are utilizing the content we provide as a marketing strategy.

The question is whether the commodification of the social that is inherent in digital networks can indeed eventually lead to a means of resisting the inequalities that capitalism produces, or whether it merely contributes to their entrenchment. The answer to that question is, of course, something that needs to be continuously readdressed at every site and at every moment in history (Mejias, 22).

At first glance, social networking and peer-to-peer content sharing seems wonderful. Instead of one-to-many, it is many-to-many. This provides users with a sense of power, an environment in which users can be in control of their own content, and they are able to communicate freely with other users. It provides for users the freedom of expression, allowing for the development of niche communities.

However, what some might fail to realize is that the aspects of this public sphere are controlled by private interests (30). The internet provides so much with little to no cost, but at the same time users are being bombarded with advertisements. In addition, every piece of content one puts onto the web is meticulously archived.

Does this scare people? The fact that we are still not completely sure if digital content is ever truly deleted? I had a really-whiny-high-school-girl Tumblr phase, and I would love for that to never come back to haunt me. But the archival aspects don’t scare me, since I have always been aware that the internet isn’t blocked with the utmost security. It also doesn’t really matter for me, no one wants to read my Snow Patrol lyrics anyway.

I found myself rolling my eyes a little bit during this reading, because I felt the author was acknowledging something that was already painfully obvious. Kids, the jig is up. Corporations are taking advantage of you. 

The digital network, however, cannot and should not be rendered invisible. If anything, it should be made more noticeable because it is precisely when we pretend it is not there that we are most prone to surrendering our agency, domesticating ourselves to conform to the networks’ epistemological exclusivity (Mejias, 99).

The goal, I suppose, is to find a middle ground. It is imperative that social network users be aware that they are the subject of advertising and exhaustive marketing strategies. They should know that everything they do is recorded and people are listening in (Sidenote: I would really love to discuss in class how people feel about the Patriot Act in contrast to how people feel about being a marketing guinea pig. Either way, they are watching. Is it the same?).

To put it simply, users cannot be idiots. They should take responsibility for their content and presence on the web, and realize that this whole “marketing inequality” thing isn’t really a mystery.


Mejias, Ulises Ali. Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis: 2013. Print.

Image from Creative Commons.

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