Brands 'R' Us: Identity Crisis in the Age of Technology

What is causing us to relate to ourself in the third person, to want to turn ourself into a product? Are we afraid that if we don't continually tell the world who we are that we will be invisible?
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With a new book coming out in October, I have been dialoguing with publicists about potentially helping me on the project. More often than not, these conversations take place without any mention of the contents of my book. Rather, the professionals have one interest: How do I plan to brand myself, build my brand -- and by the way, what is my brand?

I was recently asked, "Are you using your blog to demonstrate who you are -- to sell your brand?" I answered with another question, "So my concept of who I am needs to come up with a concept of who I am? Do I have that right?" The publicist did not respond, and so I scaled back my inquiry. "How is the act of writing what interests me different than writing what would demonstrate what interests me, or for that matter, who I am?" Still no response, but now she looked frustrated and bothered. "The purpose of your life is to sell your brand," she said matter-of-factly. And that was that. Of course, this is precisely what publicists are hired to do. But these days the selling of the self is not just prevalent with publicists, it has become a national epidemic.

What does it mean to brand ourself anyway? Kleenex means tissue; the brand is the product. Martha Stewart is her product: a certain look, smell, and experience. To brand ourself is to turn ourself into a product -- a knowable and repeatable experience. Relentlessly, we try to pin ourselves down, to capture and describe who we are. The problem (and the blessing) is that we human beings are not fixed objects; we cannot be commodified. Not only can we never step into the same river twice, but we are never the same self stepping into that river. There is in fact no solid, capture-able self. When we go looking to find this self we speak of, where is it, and who is doing the looking? Over a lifetime, our body, thoughts, beliefs, emotions, the things we do... everything changes. And yet, we vigorously fight against this truth, imagining that there is a firm me to be found somewhere.

I blog on a variety of topics: spirituality, technology, psychology, parenting, a potpourri of material. The majority of the comments that I receive (not on the blog page, but in life) are about how I can become better known through my blog -- use my writing to become more famous. Friends and colleagues ask if I am following enough people on Twitter (so that they will follow me back), whether I am responding to the people who comment on my blog (generating my fan base), and if I am posting helpful quotes on Facebook to promote my message. Mostly, people want to know how many followers I have. Every now and again someone mentions the material itself, but it is by far the exception. The dialogue is about using what I have to say in order to say something about me. Am I missing something... aren't they the same thing?

There was a time when we simply had something to say, something we believed in. We didn't need to tell the world that that's what we were about, or that that's what we believed in, and we certainly weren't interested in being the kind of person that did that thing. We just did it -- and were it.

To be seen and known as who we are used to be an obvious byproduct of being who we are. There was a seamless, uninterrupted quality to the experience of living. Rather than just living our experience from the inside, we now stand outside our own life, our own self, and offer up a description -- a press kit -- on who we are.

What is causing us to relate to ourself in the third person, to want to turn ourself into a product? Are we afraid that if we don't continually tell the world who we are that we will be invisible? Are we afraid that if we stop describing ourself for others, what we appear to be will not align with how we want to be perceived? Are we afraid that if we sync up with ourself -- enter our experience fully -- that the thinking mind, the packager of the self, will die?

When we brand ourselves, we are not only telling the world who we are, we are also shouting, "Look at me. I matter!" In our see me society, everyone is trying to grab their 15 minutes of fame, the source of which is irrelevant. When you ask teenagers these days what they want to be when they grow up, a large percentage of them say "famous." I wonder, were the current generations denied proper parental acknowledgment? Did their parents look away when they called out "Watch me"? Are we living an epidemic of invisibility? Is this the cause of our relentless demand for recognition of what we are? Alternatively, have the channels through which we receive recognition changed such that we can no longer use the newer forms of acknowledgment in a way that nourishes us? (Like 100 birthday wishes from friends on Facebook, who don't know us.) Perhaps it is simply that our need to be seen is growing, metastasizing, such that what used to feel like enough (about me) is no longer enough. Has our need to be seen become insatiable?

At this time I do not have answers, only questions. I am troubled by the issues and interested in the discovery. If that makes my brand, curious blogger, or perhaps concerned human, that's okay. And, if it makes me the kind of person who asks what we are doing with ourselves, that's okay too. For now, I simply investigate.

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