mediated by commerce

Casu = Asturian Air/Aires De Pontevedra/Muineira De Casu by Lúnasa on Grooveshark

some galician tunes on irish pipes

life in a big city has its frustrations, and one of mine is how i can be so hard to separate between genuine one-to-one interaction and a one-to-one interaction that favours a third party

consider talking to a stranger. at times it is hard but possible, and definitely some contexts help more than others. one of these is commerce. i’m reminded of a friend with a crush on the cute coffee shop attendant, too shy to ask them out. my friend would frequently shop there mostly because that interaction was possible, and hinted at the possibility of something more. except there was nothing more but commerce. many times commerce encourages the worker to be excessively friendly or sociable to bring sales up. we’re left with this strange feeling of not being able to tell apart whether someone is being friendly or just trying to get a bigger tip. sadly, it’s usually the bigger tip

while being street wise might help, i can’t help but think that somehow we’re heading towards a state of affairs where commodification permeates everything we do: should i friend this person on facebook? should i instagram this event? should i like this post? how will my reddit karma be affected if i express how i truly feel about this? basically gauging our interactions based on third-party metrics we have no control over

the prototype of this is what we already see and have seen for a long time: the salesman. a big smile, a taken-care-of appearance, perfectly tilted eyebrows to encourage trust. there’s a sense of unease when someone like that knocks on our door: it’s too obvious they’re there for something they will profit from. but when a cute bartender gives us a free drink and smiles, things are not as clear. there is a strong emotional response that is hard to disconnect from what it might be: not flirting, but probably a veiled promotion for that new drink. the reason why this keeps happening is because the vehicle for the interaction is itself commerce. inside a club, everything that happens that’s positive creates more business. on facebook, everything that happens and generates clicks means more business too. in a way, there is a panoply of third parties that benefit from the fusing of the commodified interaction and the uncommodifiable one and profit greatly if the two are indistinguishable

i grow weary of how this has quickly become ingrained in mindsets, to the point where one might hear “all friendships imply that each party has something to gain, so if a company gains something too there’s nothing wrong with that”. sure, relationships of mutual interest have always existed. what concerns me are these invisible structures that shape how we interact, exploiting our instincts, feelings of empathy or our sweet spot for smiles. third parties thrive on predictability, well behaved data, docile personalities. it is no surprise, then, that the social media intense world is a docile and non-confrontational one. netiquette, that has existed for as long as the internet has existed, expresses this bias clearly. it’s only a democracy while we all agree, so if you don’t, you will get downvoted to oblivion, unfriended by those that fear social repercussions, and so on

today, yet again, a beautiful fund-raiser approached me with smiles and warmness. who would i be smiling back to? the exploited underpaid worker that has had to smile all day without meaning it, or the CEOs and managers that are enjoying luxury thanks to the exploitation of human nature? these thoughts send shivers down my spine every time this happens. and yet, i can’t help but to smile back. it seems the profit someone makes out of our connection doesn’t outweigh how powerful it is in its simplicity. it’s almost as if the 21st century way of controlling us is with soft cushions and comfy chairs

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6 Responses to mediated by commerce

  1. Applepie says:

    As a sales person myself I can see this frustration. Yes we’re taught to smile, have eye contact have enthusiasm. Why? Because when you smile the more people will smile back, when people smile there’s endorphins that are released . Why have eye contact? So they are engaged. Is there psychology to it? Of course! Is there a third party profiting from it ? Of course there is. Yet at the end of the day , I truly believe that I’m learning a skill that is benefiting me. Am I under paid? Of course I am. But for all the archives you write , your not getting paid either, infact your receiving all your topics from the Internet. Which is a briallant! It may be cheating. Where me the ” salesman” receives my own ideas from interacting with real people, who most likely wouldn’t read archives in the first place. Typically if you’ve ever bought food from a supermarket, I may have approached you for an idea, business advice or a wake up call , that they have been interrupted to tell me.

    • pb says:

      yet what i write comes from engaging real people and virtual people alike, out of my own volition, and not from a final desire to profit from it, be it for my personal gain or someone else’s

      i have no doubts your newly acquired skills benefit you: that’s what they’re designed to do. they are specifically adapted to controlling someone else’s behaviour for your own personal gain. like learning a deadly art, knowing how to kill doesn’t mean you should. having powerful knowledge lures us into exerting this power over unwilling others, which i believe is unethical

      thanks for reading

  2. Frank says:

    I often wonder the same thing in relation to hospitality exchange interactions (e.g., couchsurfing). Are some guests extra-nice because they want to get a good reference and thus improve their chances of getting accepted by future hosts, and are some hosts extra-nice because they want to get a good reference and thus improve their chances of hosting more guests (or being hosted themselves)? Would the same sort of positive interactions occur if these people met in other ways that didn’t have this possible agenda? Is there a degree of phoney-ness to couchsurfing etc.? These are important questions to ask if, like me, you are considering moving overseas to be closer to former guests whom you now consider among your best friends!

    • pb says:

      great point about couchsurfing. an interesting case i encounter frequently is how negative references, though essential for the system, are barely used if at all, since they reflect badly on both the person reporting the problem and the person causing it

      i think it is a fair uncertainty. in a way, on couchsurfing our interactions are mediated by a company whose business model depends on “positive experiences”. it follows that people will be extra conscious about what they appear to be on their profile vs. who they really are, and with it, some changes in behaviour might come. the people that adjust to this “positively charged” policy will thrive, those that happen to not enjoy it or dislike it, will naturally drop from the network. in a way, it systematically promotes that type of behaviour, even though it isn’t the only behaviour that exists on that network. so guests and hosts are encouraged to be “extra nice” even if they don’t feel like it, because all their interactions are on public display, and the risk of public embarrassment has so many consequences that it’s just better to be diplomatic, docile and non-confrontational

      what i see here, though, is how the third party though seemingly neutral, actually sets the standard for how things operate. the programmer will define how the website works, and the users have to submit to whatever policy was decided, irregardless of whether it is actually a valid policy

      so coming back to guests and hosts, if the popularity in a system requires of its users that they become friendly and sociable, we can expect that those that can will thrive. but it doesn’t imply necessarily that they are doing so because they are acting naturally versus acting with intent. in the end i’d say travellers are generally happy to have a place to stay, and to not raise waves about anything, because shower, bed and company are so much more valuable than a few dozen characters in a website. in a way, hosting has its way of eroding away optimism and giving us a more cynical outlook on things, mostly from the constant feeling of abandonment: our guests leave us all the time

      what concerns me instead is that this might become the standard for interactions: that interactions will always be mediated by someone who profits from them, and that interactions will therefore be shaped by boards of directors and technical professionals, instead of enjoying the neutrality of the unmediated 1 to 1

      i also imagine that empathy and real human connection is still clearer to our senses than social skills, and that extends to each one of those friendships. while the salesman’s smile is beautiful, it fades when we don’t buy what they are selling. a friend’s smile, on the other hand, might just be more unconditional. and of course, there’s always asking: “are you being nice to me because you’re selling something, or are you being nice to me because you like me?”, though at times it might be socially awkward

      thanks for your thoughts and for reading!

  3. Claudia says:

    I see the point you´re making but I feel you might be overthinking. I mean, as a former salesperson I was polite and friendly to each client but we all have our favourites. To some people I´d be extra nice, not because I wanted to sell them more of anything but because I like them for some reason. Likewise, if someone came into my shop with a big smile, chances are they would get better service. I don´t think people would be nice to me get any sort of freebie but only because it´s their personality. Some clients became friends, too. So sometimes it´s the other way around and commerce is a vehicle for human interaction. I still have some faith in humanity.

    • pb says:

      when commerce is a vehicle for human interaction, the innocent and the purposeful become indistinguishable, that is the main point i was making. individually, one might look at it in many ways, but i’d argue there’s this extra layer that, when ignored, can have great power over us, whichever side we come from.

      thanks for reading