Furthest Right

You Are The Product


The web gave us the rise of the personal blog. At first, the blog was a place to post links of interest, but with the rise of search engines, this became less important, and instead bloggers competed for traffic on the basis of personality and pleasant visions of life… that may be very far from real.

But with this change, the blogger altered identity. He or she was no longer the chooser of links, or the finder of oddities, in which case the links were the product. No: the blogger was the product. People were tuning in to partake of the personality and the lifestyle which they admired.

This clinched the trap. Where previously bloggers had been susceptible to vanity, now they were what they were selling to the audience, and sometimes they bought their own product… as every drug dealer or arms merchant is cautioned not to do. Bloggers got no such warning.

In doing so, they pioneered the postmodern condition: when everything is a product, individuals are products too, selling themselves in exchange for jobs, status, popularity, fame and opportunities. We have made our society into a herd of attention whores through our insistence on selection by the masses of what is the “right” answer.

Look at what a creepy, proctological world we have made:

“The other bloggers in your community won’t share your content with their readers [if it’s not cheery],” she explains. “And if the [blogger] networks don’t share the content, then your own numbers suffer.”

…“I felt I could somehow control things as long as it looked good online,” says Denise

…“So there we all are, family time, grilling on Father’s Day with peach iced tea, but you can’t enjoy the moment you’re having with your kids, because you’re taking endless photos and it’s all stage-directed,” says Denise. “You’re worried about getting the company logo in the frame, and your kids smiling, and you’re taking shot after shot.”

In other words, bloggers — We The People — have become just as sold out as big media. But there is another catch: if your blog is a personal one, or one in which you sell yourself, you find yourself altering who you are to make the audience happy. Your personality, life and soul have become a means to an end of getting more attention.

Validation creates a validator. If we are all equal, that situation creates competition to be validated as more than equal. That transfers power from the individual, who ordinarily through self-esteem is alone responsible for his self-image, to the crowd which approves or disapproves. The validators become the tyrants, and bloggers alter themselves to be more pleasing, like concubines after a feast.

Another blogger expressed it this way — basically, needing attention makes you a slave and a whore to what other people think:

and you know what? even though i was fretting all along about my absence, i finally let go of all that self imposed stress and just enjoyed life. it’s been great to take a breather from the ol’ internet- my pal and yours, but let’s face it: sometimes the internet can feel sorta… eh at times, you know? pretty easy to get caught up in it all. all the tweeting, chatting, flickring, facebooking, stylehiving, myspacing, friendstering, tumblering, bloglining, etc. it’s a lot, isn’t it? sometimes so much that you forget to interact with the people right in front of your face. instead, you find yourself neeeeeding the updates. who’s doing what. did so-and-so post new pics? has so-and-so returned from their vacation? what is so-and-so making for dinner? what’s the latest celeb scandal? and what is so-and-so wearing today.

crazy, i know. but the time away provides an excellent reminder: you will be just fine if you didn’t check in with all that stuff as much as you think you need to because your own life is pretty good. and that it feels a lot better to live through your own experiences than through someone elses.

This echoes the meltdowns that other bloggers — in this case, the type of “look at my perfect life” blogger called a mommyblogger — have experienced. For example, Heather Armstrong (Dooce) had a very public meltdown in which she admitted to being in therapy, divorced her husband and fled her “perfect” life:

I find this so confusing because according to Dooce, the two of them have been going to therapy for years together. Dooce has praised her husband and openly loved him for years. I don’t get how this happened. Was she lying to us about how things really were?

I’ve noticed that many very successful and/or famous people do not stay with the partner they were with prior to that success and/or fame. But Dooce has been successful and famous for a long time now. The marriage had the outward appearance of surviving not only Heather’s mental illness, but also her career. Jon doesn’t seem like the kind of man who would begrudge Heather her success. He seems to really love and respect her.

Other bloggers have had similar meltdowns. Early blogger Justin Hall experienced a meltdown at the peak of his fame and as he was forced by post-college life to make himself into a product. Jorn Barger, the guy who invented the term “blog,” experienced an intense meltdown that left him homeless.

So what does this tell us? That the need for validation creates a need to manipulate image, and that soon the false image replaces reality…

Most women don’t necessarily do it for the money, Denise noticed, but rather for validation — the feeling of importance that comes from working with big, national brands like Bigelow Tea and Coca-Cola.

“They aren’t very honest about what’s going on in their lives,” she says. “I was certainly one of them.”

…“I’m not playing that game anymore. I’m moving on from writing posts about chicken and cupcakes. These days, if I’m at a park with my kids now, I’m there, at that park. I feel a real sense of community — not the false kind I tried to create online.”

The image must conform to what others want to purchase as a product. They do not care about reality. They want a pleasant reality in which to lose themselves and feel better about their lives. You, the blogger, are the product: a celebrity whose forum is not the movies in which you act, but your own personal drama and lifestyle which you sell like a used car to whichever warm bodies you can induce to click on your links.

The creepiness continues because with the idea of a “personal” connection comes the notion that people can share emotions, truths and viewpoints:

As a result of such heated controversy, Armstrong began connecting with others in the blogosphere, and her readership continued to grow. Since then, the relationship between her and her readers has been invaluable. They have helped her through extremely dark times in her life, particularly through her postpartum depression.

“I would give hints about how I was feeling, and people would respond,” Armstrong said. “Many of them reached out to me with their own story, saying, ‘Please take care of yourself.’ I really credit their support of me to the willingness of me to accept that something was wrong.”

In other words, this is the formation of a hive mind: a huge group grooving to the same emotion, moving through the same motions, and motivated by the same fears. This is a dangerous condition at best, and a horrifying abyss of human moral awareness and self-discipline at worst. When the herd validates you, you have no reason to change for some reason as piddly as adapting to reality.

FreckleWonder, the (freckled) blogger cited earlier, eventually retreated from blogging and left instead this statement about how profoundly being a self-centered celebrity had ruined her life:

If my math is correct, it’s been 99 days since my last post. I didn’t intend go dark but the thing is, the more the days went by, the easier it was to not blog and just live. The idea of sitting down to edit images and compose a post just seemed totally unfulfilling. I’d rather take the 1-2 hours and hang out with my kids, connect with my husband, enjoy the outdoors with my dogs. Cook, exercise, read a book. Lounge on the sofa in the sunshine and stare at the ceiling. Really, anything but comb the internet for ideas and images to write a blogpost.

The last thing I want to do is apologize for not sitting down to blog because I’ve been busy living and experiencing that wonderful thing called real life. I don’t like it when bloggers apologize for not meeting some number of posts because of x, y and z. The kids were sick! We’ve been SO BUSY. My internet was out! I promise to be back next week!

These things happen and it’s called life. Blogging ≠ Life.

My perspective has definitely shifted over the last couple years. You may have noticed, I rarely share images of my kids anymore (here or elsewhere) and don’t really blog about anything very personal. I decided about 2 years ago to reclaim the private moments in our lives, saving them (for the most part) just for us to experience instead of plastering them all over the www. It wasn’t anything I announced or talked about, and there wasn’t any single incident that pushed me towards making that decision. It’s just what felt right to me and to my husband and what felt best for our family. It’s almost like I woke up one day and hit my limit on sharing. Let’s face it, the internet isn’t what it used to be.

I do miss the good old days of blogging, long before every little slice of life was monetized in some way. Snacks, outfits, family trips. I’ve struggled with this for years. Some people handle this delicate balance really well – and I sincerely mean that. But I truly believe that in many cases, the money behind a post really changes the author’s voice. A blog post reads like an advertisement. From a reader perspective, things feel less genuine, less reader-blogger connected. Instead things feel at times competitive and incredibly superficial with product pushing, mile long gift guides riddled with affiliate links. Those posts are not fun to put together, I know from experience. They’re also not fun (for me) to read. I have ZERO interest in spending my few spare moments on something like that. I’m not singling out any one blog/blogger, but rather speaking to the overwhelming feeling I have that everywhere I turn, I’m being sold something.

I miss the days of having a real community. Of sharing for the sake of connecting. Of being genuinely inspired. Maybe I’m looking in all the wrong places. If you know of well written, honest, non-sponsored content, please share. Because nowadays a lot of folks are up on their writer-editor-tastemaker high horse and images are curated to the teeth and WHAT IS LIFE because I’m not so sure about all of this. I’d be the first one to admit that it’s easy to fall into that perfect image trap. You want to share something lovely, you want to share something nice. But at what point does lovely and nice turn into phony and absurd? (This a bit of an aside and I am going out on a limb but: I don’t consider myself a writer. I don’t want to offend the real writers of the world. However, it is important to me that I hit the submit button on a post that is not just visually beautiful but also well written (to the best of my ability) and free of any spelling and grammatical errors. I do spend more than a few minutes editing and revising because it matters. For example, this post currently has 34 revisions and I’ve spent more than two hours on it. I feel like it’s the least you can do (especially if you’re getting paid to do it).
 Grammar Girl is your friend. Also, things like aThesaurus! The Idiom and Phrase finder! Put those in your bag of tricks. Just might be enough to sink a ship.

ANYHOW, I wonder why I even want to be a part of it any more. Is it more out of habit? A pull that I feel because it’s something I’ve done for so long that it feels weird to not be involved? It’s a total yes on this one. And it’s funny because sometimes I still wake up in the middle of the night and write blog posts in my head. The blog weighs on me like a ton of bricks. At 4 am they always seem really great and share-worthy. But it’s the middle of the night! And I should be sleeping! What the hell am I doing! And then morning comes and with it my ability to see things more clearly. I go about all my usual business, which as of late does not seem to have any space for this here blog.

It’s a square peg, round hole kind of situation.

I’m pulling the plug at the end of the month. It feels so silly to pay hosting fees, etc. for something I’m just not doing with any kind of regularity (or enthusiasm) anymore. If I can muster up the energy to figure out how to export over to a free platform, then maybe I’ll do that. Maybe the mood will strike – it’s been a LONG WINTER after all.

The last time I quit a blog, it was so emotional for me! I agonized over the decision and it felt like I was jumping off the edge of something because it had been a part of my life for so long. This time it’s a no brainer – it was fun until it wasn’t. I’m truly ready to move on to different things. I’m enrolled in spring classes and I’m so excited about it. This next year is going to be a really busy one as we focus on selling our house and beginning a new chapter for our family. New house, new hood, new schools, new work, all off the blog.

I have so much appreciation for all of you loyal readers and customers throughout the years. Your support, your kindness, your friendship. Thanks for reading and being a part of this thing for so long.

I will leave you with one last thing: I stumbled across a quote online last year sometime, probably on one of those silly Pinterest boards with all the quotes (I used to have one, no worries) and it read: DO ONE THING AND DO IT WELL. And that sucker smacked me sideways. I’ve been a proud multitasker for as long as I can remember, but the minute I decided to clear my plate and put my energy towards fewer things in a more effective way, the better I felt. And the better I was at those things. Win, win.

In the experiences of these bloggers, we see the modern parable: people made responsible to the Crowd through self-image, which in turn forces them to edit that image until it appeals to the Crowd, not just so they can get ahead but so they are not left behind. Every whitelist — list of good people — also contains an implicit blacklist — list of bad people — because if you are not on the whitelist, you are de facto on the blacklist.

This creates a horrific world where nothing is authentic, where everyone is a salesman, and where all “truths” are image designed to manipulate you, and nothing more. The experience of bloggers and their meltdowns is nothing less than what our society as a whole faces as its attention whoring falls flat and it must confront the emptiness of a life lived for image in denial of reality.

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