With friends like these…
Are our friends really little more than marketing tools with which we should improve our own lives?india Updated: Mar 07, 2010 18:33 IST
Real power comes from being indispensable,” declares Keith Ferrazzi, who has carved out a high-profile niche for himself as the maestro of networking – the art of coming to see your social circle, not just as people you drink with, or play Scrabble with, or have ill-informed arguments about Iraq with, but as a “resource”.(His bestseller was called Never Eat Alone, which strikes me as a nightmarish prospect, but I accept the possibility that I’m a misanthrope.)
His weapon of choice is “social arbitrage”: spotting opportunities to introduce, say, your web designer friend Derek to your venture capitalist friend Eustacia, in ways advantageous to both, leaving you basking in the equally advantageous afterglow of being a connector.
A similar outlook motivates the marketing guru Seth Godin, whose latest book, Linchpin, urges us to expend “emotional labour” for others, to “give gifts” of time and energy, in order to become the essential worker no organisation would ever dream of firing. As strategies go, these aren’t terrible (or new; most are just footnotes to Machiavelli, who said it all in the 1530s).
Even so, they seem symptomatic of a phenomenon you might call instrumentalisation: taking aspects of social existence we’d previously thought of as ends in themselves (making friends, giving gifts) and turning them into means, co-opting them for other agendas. Forging relationships for the purposes of profit: we used to call this marketing. But a favourite slogan of Godin’s admirers is “We are all marketers now” and the alarming truth is that they might be right.
The changing world of work is one culprit: as secure jobs become scarcer, as contract work expands, and the line between work and leisure blurs, it’s hard not to see the whole of life as a potential business opportunity. To some degree, we all become the neighbour who wants you to invest in his llama farm or similar sketchy initiative; life becomes one giant Tupperware party. Nowhere is this clearer than in the worlds of Twitter and Facebook.
Both are crawling with irritating professional marketers, true, but more disorienting is how they turn everyone into marketers of themselves, collectors of friends and followers, purveyors of interesting titbits. It’s not technology’s fault: life has always been a popularity contest. Maybe from an evolutionary standpoint, all social interaction is marketing. But online spaces make the fact excruciatingly obvious, with constant feedback on how you’re doing.
But the most disorienting example of ends-into-means is surely what has happened to the concept of “authenticity”, which increasingly seems to be a style, consciously adopted for marketing reasons, and thus not authentic at all. This isn’t just a business phenomenon.
The blog beyondgrowth.net recently highlighted the “pickup artist” Tyler Durden, who offers expensive training weekends at which men learn how to seem authentic, thereby (or so the pitch goes) attracting throngs of eager women.
That’s right: affected authenticity as a means to an end, taught by a man using a pseudonym borrowed from a character in Fight Club who isn’t even a real person in that movie, but the figment of another character’s imagination. What happened to this dating coach’s real identity? It’s gone missing. Real authenticity – you know, the authentic kind – has left the building.
– The Guardian