Serfs searching for an audience online

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Serfs searching for an audience online


I faithfully update my Facebook page, but it still makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes. Anyone would feel the same way. The constantly flashing advertisements and the “People You May Know” and “Pages You May Like” suggestions bother me. These recommendations are based on an analysis of my posts, “Like” responses and my network of friends. It is very unpleasant to be analyzed like that by a faceless corporation.

I ended up writing a post denouncing Facebook and waited to see how many friends would “Like” it.

A little while ago, a video clip from Belgium went viral online. People on the street were asked to have their minds read by a psychic. The psychic knew about the color of their bike or home, relationships, tattoos, even their bank account numbers and spending patterns. People were frightened, only to learn that most of the information was being drawn from their Facebook accounts. As it turned out, it was just an online safety campaign run by a Belgian trade association.

Nicco Mele is a futurist who pays attention to the shifting power in the digital era, and he expressed deep concerns about “digital serfdom.” Anthony De Rosa, a product manager at Reuters, first coined the term.

“We live in a world of Digital Feudalism,” wrote De Rosa. “The land many live on is owned by someone else, be it Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, or some other service that offers up free land and the content provided by the renter of that land essentially becomes owned by the platform that owns the land. We are being played for suckers to feed the beast, to create content that ends up creating value for others.”

Some get tired of the privacy issues raised by such sites and quit altogether. But instead of vanishing quietly, they usually post a lengthy statement explaining why they’re leaving. In fact, leaving cyberspace altogether is no easy task. Most of them eventually come back. In fact, more than 1.1 billion people use Facebook.

Another popular online post analyses your social networking sites. My Cyworld mini homepage shows how sentimental I am. My Facebook page shows how I am enjoying my life. My blog shows how professional I am. My Instagram shows how trendy I am. Kakao Story shows how cool my life, my children and my pets are. Tumblr shows how obsessive I am.

Despite the marginal differences between such services, the essence is vanity. In other words, social networking sites are an online battle ground for recognition.

“We all want to be the main character of our lives, and we need an audience. SNS is a place where we can tell other people that we are leading our own lives and be the audience for one another. But no one can be the true leader, and no one is the true audience. This space is sad, sometimes,” film critic Choi Gwang-hee recently posted to his SNS.

* The author is a deputy culture and sports editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.

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