Voyeurism and the New Media

How, precisely, do Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube make money? From the little (and not so little) advertisements they place into their content, and by selling information about you (their users) to advertisers. But that’s not quite the end of the story, is it? Without users, they would have no revenue model. What draws their users? Content generated for free.

By offering the means of production free to their users, other leviathan sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, have generated enormous amounts of content at almost no expense. Even better, this content is a gold mine for targeted advertising. -Paul McFedries, IEEE Spectrum, October 2102

In short, to turn an old phrase into the new, voyeurism sells. Every time you post some “darling cute” post about your kids, friends, or significant other, you’re not just attracting those who have a personal interest in your life (through a real relationship), but also the little bit of a voyeur in all of us.

So how do we solve this problem? Since I’m not a liberal, my first reaction is not for some government, someplace, to step in and force these companies to pay for the content currently generated for free. Liberal “solutions,” don’t ever really solve anything.

Instead, the only solution I see is for us, as people, to start having a little respect —not only for others, but also for ourselves. Do I really need to know what my best friend ate for dinner tonight? Every night? Do I really need to know where they are, where they’ve “checked in,” what their doing, what they’re buying? If someone is really my friend, shouldn’t I respect them enough to realize that my diving into their lives to this level is a complete failure of respect?

Do I really need to tell everyone every time I listen to a song, sit down to eat a meal, buy a book, or read an article? Am I no more than the collection of the stuff I’ve done? How often do I talk about where I’m eating because it’s someplace fancy other folks can’t afford on a regular basis? Is someone who wants to know all this stuff really my “friend” in the first place, or are they just watching me for the visceral pleasure of being a voyeur?

But this reaches into work, as well. The things we produce, the things we do that add value to the lives of others, should be respected for the work it takes to make them. Expecting free content, abusing free content, is a failure to respect the work of the person who creates it. I know there is the inevitable draw of “maybe I’ll get rich someday by doing this,” but your chances are about as good as hitting the lottery. With so many good singers plying their wares on YouTube, what are your chances of being really noticed? There are a few success stories out there, of course — otherwise, the allure wouldn’t be there. Someone has to win the lottery every now and again to make the lottery exciting. Tickets wouldn’t sell otherwise.

The only real solution, in the end, is a worldview solution — to stop treating people as sources of entertainment, and to start treating them as people.

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