Why is the internet so tiring? Blame your crowdsourced bosses

It’s old hat by now saying “you are the product” on social media. That bon mot is often used to explain why social media is free to access. But that’s only just on the surface. After all, this idea of ​​intangibles connected to the self didn’t even start with the Internet, but with the 20th century turning our psyche into a comic book mine. Today, we’re not just the apples of advertisers’ eyes, we’re the protagonist of the internet’s deepest libidinal needs: the villain, hero, romantic interest, or incomplete story of the day. Sometimes we become ‘Bae’. Sometimes we are, well, West Elm Caleba† A viral tweet or a sudden increase in viewers for your YouTube or Twitch channel or a particularly witty Tok can have you confronted by thousands of people deep invested in what you say and do. Why is it so?

Over the past 20 years, we have entered a phase of capitalism that thrives on products that redefine unreality. A universal market of the fake. It is this agora of artifice that alleviates the ills of streamers who succumb to the unbearable weight of their fans’ parasocial relationships with the “financing everything” that is the dark promise at the heart of cryptocurrency and NFTs, to loot boxes and microtransactions in video games. While the global economy still relies on real, tangible resources and products, the evolution of capitalism has demanded that more solids be invented for the sole purpose of being melted into thin air.

It’s not just that you are the product. You are also the worker, the factory and the logistics worker. You are also the source. And your boss is crowdsourced.

The almost 40 year old The concept of “emotional labor” has been crushed by the social media particle accelerator, using the phrase to describe, for example, the exhaustion of listening to a friend’s problems when you don’t really want to, rather than getting the right ones. due gets to explain the relationship between our personalities and capital. Ironically, the internet has made the concept so cheap that we now struggle to use it to name the cause of our digital ailments.

Conceived in the early 1980s by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, “emotional labor” was nothing less than a radical update of the Marxist concept of alienation—the idea that a worker was “alienated” from the product of his labor rather than owning it. Only this time it was not a widget from which the employee was estranged, but her soul. For Hochschild, emotional labor was the “management of the feeling to create a publicly perceivable facial and bodily display; emotional labor is sold for a wage and thus has exchange value.” In short: service with a smile. You are selling an emotional state, you are selling your personality. you are the product.

“The company claims not just her physical movements,” Hochschild wrote of the flight attendants she studied, “but her emotional actions and the way they are expressed in the ease of a smile.” Now workers sell their personalities along with their bodies.

The great burden Hochschild identified was that one’s livelihood was tied to the expropriation of one’s emotions by those who paid you. What she couldn’t have foreseen was the way these ouroboros of manufactured authenticity and existential doubt would leak out of the self-titled and salaried service professions and into the increasingly precarious world of the Internet of gigs, where it would become a way of life for millions. Emotional labor is inevitable in the gig economy, in which some 16 percent of Americans have worked; that number rises to 30 percent for Latino Americans† In gig economy jobs, you don’t have one boss to please; you have an audience of tens, hundreds or even thousands. Your “boss” is crowdsourced

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