Walking Wallets, FB and The Opportunities That Might Never Come.

While reading the book “23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism” by Ha-Joon Chang, I felt that the fifth chapter “Assume the worst about people, and you get the worst” was a revelation. This chapter gave my vague and scattered thoughts a clear voice. Assume that everyone is out for themselves and their self-interests, that what you will get. If we act believing that to be true, it will become a force that will shape our social world to become this “a man is a wolf to another man” kind of a world.

But, that title is not entirely accurate. As market values become the hegemonic system of value in our social world, money’s power Become even greater. What was once above the laws of the markets, becomes its subject with a price tag. I talked about the possibility of buying love, but how that thinking shapes the use of social media?

When we walk down the street, go on a bus, drive our car, we are bombarded with information. If you look closely, you will see that most of this info is ads. Every piece of clothing today has a brand on it. Ads are everywhere you look. Even in places, you cannot run away like bar’s toilets. We are being forced to watch\read those ads because in many cases, business relies on Ads to become profitable. Radio stations, TV channels, internet sites, all need ads to stay “free” while profiting money.

Considering that, my paraphrase to the title I gave earlier will be this: assume that everyone is a wallet, and treat other human beings only as business opportunities, and you will get only superficial relationships that revolve solely on money.

We are being treated as wallets. Everywhere we go, someone, somewhere, in many various ways tries to sell us something. The word “to sell” means to convince us. To change our perceptions and priorities that we will incline to buy this particular thing. We can look at it as a power struggle, which people try to improve their position in the social world (through getting more money) on other’s account. That is why we are suspicious of everyone. When someone offers us help we begin to wonder “what will he or she get out of it?”, “where is the catch?”, “what will be the price tag?” So when we are being treated as a walking wallet, we start to become cynical about our relationship with other people.

So this is the reason many of us don’t delete FB. I can’t found my claims with empirical data, but FB today is not what it used to be. Today can barely see anyone sharing something of personal value. I see “likes” on pages, trending stuff, and mostly ads in disguise. So I lost the reason to use it.

So why I keep using it? Fear. Fear of losing opportunities. When you Look back at the age before the internet, you meet someone, and your ways go to a separate way. You either send letters, or you just had to give up and accept that partings from others is just a part of life. You had to invest real effort to maintain friendships. Now you can just be friends on FB. But with how many out of those hundreds of friends do we talk to regularly? Even on FB’s chat? How many out of those so-called friends do we even want to speak to, assuming we had the chance? The sad thing is that we have the opportunity all the time, but we don’t use it. Why? Because we are not close. We don’t want to get close, and we don’t care. So why are we “friends” on FB?

Because of the thinking that maybe, just maybe, we will need something from them. Perhaps they will be in a position later in life, that could help us out. Maybe they will look for a person with my set of skills. This FOMO (fear of missing out) keeps us in check, meaning using FB. This is an example of how we treat others as “walking wallets,” as an insurance for the future. And when we talk about the “future” we usually mean money. Because this is the main thing that keeps us alive.

So, we don’t care much about connecting with “people,” because we don’t use FB to communicate with the ones we really care for. And we don’t use FB to talk to those “friends”. So FB is just… just in case. We don’t really need it, but the fear of losing those “connections” keep us at bay.

This is how a market economy is shaping our perception of social media. It is to connect with other people, but not as human beings, but rather as an insurance for the future.

Can money buy love? Market Values and Romance.

While reading the book “What Money Can’t buy: The moral limits of markets,” by Michael J. Sandel I felt a relation to my previous posts. He introduces many instances of how market economy “crowds out” other morals that don’t belong to the market economy. For example, lobbyists pay people, sometimes homeless people, to stand on their behalf in queues for important congress meetings. Or how some schools offer students money to read books, or give monetary incentives to get high scores.

While these are fascinating debates about the corruption of morals by market values, I want to discuss something else. Usually the typical answer to the question “what money can’t buy” is “love.” Most people believe that money can’t buy romantic love, friendships, and in general good human relationships. Well, of course, that is true, but it is not entirely correct if we observe the way market values diffuse into our daily lives.

This is how I see it: When we are young, we tend to fall in love quite quickly. But, as time passes by, and the more we interact with others, the more we date others and gain life experience through those interactions, we start gathering information about ourselves. We learn what we don’t like, what type of people we don’t have good chemistry with. This helps us shape our preferences and character. When we become well established as ourselves, we find things we like to do; we start prioritizing some things over others. Naturally, our taste changes as well.

I think, which might be only the way I see it, while we’re young we pay more attention to things we like in our romantic partners. But when we grow older, we pay as much attention to the absence of things we don’t like in our partner זה לא מסתדר מבחינת מה שאתה אומר . While a partner can have many things we love, if he/she also has many things we dislike, it will be impossible to build a future with him or her. When we are young, we don’t need to live together or think much about the future, but when it becomes relevant, we become way more picky about the “dislikes.”

How does it connect to market economy? It is simple. The more the market economy’s values become the norm, or the standard way to see the world, the more we can agree on the “proper” way people “should” live their lives. Thus, we value certain types of characteristics more than others. Those who live by the values of the market economy are considered to be better. It is enough to look at motivational speakers, self-help books, etc, to understand what society deems to be the “good values that everyone should have”.

These values are connected to the idea of what it means to be successful. While there isn’t a clear answer to the question “what is a successful individual,” we do have a vague, general answer. How can I claim that? I watch TV carefully. Look at American romantic comedies. The protagonists are usually single. They live in the big city and have a well paid position, something which is not usual to their age. They live in a big studio apartment and never have to worry about money. Work takes most of their time, so they don’t have time for romance, until one day…

To be successful is to be well established financially. Our subconscious tells us that if someone has a good job, and he gets promoted or has a high position at their job, he has to have the “right” set of characteristics that allowed him to be successful. He or she is hardworking, intelligent, good with people, has a good education (probably), he or she lives productively, and most likely take good care of their health (it matters in social places). In short, they are exemplary.

As opposed to that, people with inconsistent employment that pays little, are considered to be the a bad example to how to live your life “properly”. The impression is that they don’t want to work hard. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in that situation. They don’t lead a healthy life and they don’t care about their future, so they are irresponsible and cannot be trusted when push comes to shove.

When we get to the time we look for a partner in life; money is a big issue. We look for an insurance, we want our future to be stable. Thus money plays a big role in picking a partner. So while money can’t buy love, it can “buy” people a chance to be evaluated and to be noticed. So in a roundabout way, money equals successes. Success is a “proof” that an individual has the right set of characteristics, thus more likely to be respected and eventually loved. The market economy serves as a basis for the “right” values, and show us how we should live our lives.  Money don’t by love directly, it serves as a basis to evaluate people positively, thus making them more likely to be loved.     

Do We Really Need the Future “convenient store”? and What Does Humanities and Social Sciences Has To Say About It

I live in Japan and research the effect English has on Japanese culture. I usually try to dodge the bullet that is called “Japanese TV,” but when I have to watch it (no choice), it teaches me a lot, not about the world or anything too complicated, but about Japanese culture (though not the way one should expect).

They always have some special on TV, so the one on new year was about inventions and the future. It dealt with various fields, but the one I watched was about the “convenience store of the future.” They showed the evolution of the cashier since everything was done manually until the bar-code scanner. Then they showed the viewers the future, as it is being designed in the R&D section at “Lawson.” In the future, you might have guessed; everything will be automatic. You will put all the products in a basket, put the basket on a designated space, and then automatically the basket will be inserted into a machine. The machine will identify and scan all the products, and give the total sum the customer have to pay. After the payment is complete, everything will already be inserted into a bag for the customer. So only have to take the bag and leave.

Now, the superficial thinking is “how cool” and how convenient. The second or the third (or fifth) thought must be “why do we need this? Why do we need to make things so trivial MORE efficient and straightforward? I can understand when someone wants to create a better metal; there is a need to consider the process and find ways to make it better and efficient. However, why does this thinking is diffusing into spheres that don’t need it? Why does it matter if a person needs to put the groceries in the bag or a machine?

In my neighborhood back home, the guy who ran the mini-market still works as he worked back in the 70s. No one has ever complained about it. Even though sometimes people get the feeling that he “invents” prices because there is no way he remembers everything by heart. On the contrary, it felt warm and personal. He ignores debts of poor customers and gives food for free to people in need. He has donation boxes all over the place and he is always cheerful and nice. His mini-market act as a center of the neighborhood, when people meet they can have their “gossip” quota filled up. We will lose all this Value if it will be done by machines. This value is transparent to way the market operates and values things. This is important, and this will go away by the same people who argue that “it will make our live easier”. Who made you in charge of our lives?

This “Fordism” idea, which I guess came from the famous pin factory by Adam Smith, is to make everything simpler and more efficient in increasing profits. But this comes at a price. As Marx argued, it alienates the workers from the creation (production) process, and well, to put it bluntly, it’s tedious and degrading human beings. The market that puts profits on top of everything pushes business to find ways to make everything cheaper and faster. So, if they can save money on workers, great. Machines are better than humans in many things, and the more technology is moving forward, machines and robots come on top in more areas of life.

So many starts to be terrified of the day when all the cars will drive by themselves. How can we find to all those people new jobs? Will the market create them? Well, the way the car replaced the horses, is not the same as autonomous cars replace drivers. People had to “drive” horses, so the “tool” just changed. Now we don’t need drivers at all. And maybe we won’t even need people to take care of the cars. About driving, due to the number of casualties caused by human error, It’s inevitable. But, and that is a BIG but, why do we need to replace cashiers? No idea. Nobody stops to think about it; they only think in the manner the market has molded them to think in.

Humanities and social sciences are free from this “market” thinking and free to say “why do we need this?”. That is why Humanities matters, though those fields usually regarded poorly. People at the top of the market and engineers might come with good ideas, but only if you measure them in the way the market does. But, when you think outside of the box, sometimes those ideas are just plainly stupid. I believe that these people believe that those things will make our lives better. But, they lack the tools to critically think about the way those things will affect our society. Because while they can program, they have ZERO understanding of social sciences, history, and humanities. Sadly they are entirely ignorant of this fact. It is sad to see how some smart people, who specialize in a certain field in science, like computer science, fail to see that they are not specialized, and have no idea what so ever, about our society. If someone reads newspapers, it doesn’t mean he is an expert on politics. If someone is a part of our society, it doesn’t mean he is an expert on it, or has a better understanding over people who dedicate their lives to research it. When technocrats will be honest enough to realize that, we, society, might have a chance. More technology won’t save us from problems technology has created. Only humans can deal with and heal our society. And the people to do it are scholars, not technocrats.

There is more to say about this, but I’ll leave that to next time.
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