Market research thereby reminds us that the consumer arena is about making yourself heard, making yourself known and feeling like you really matter — it’s certainly not about the humdrum acquisition of use values. Moreover, the market itself is where to seek that sort of affirmation about the significance of your opinion. And it reinforces the consumerist notion that opinions are the essence of you; as far as society (i.e. the aggregate of individual choices mediated by markets) is concerned, we are the sum of our opinions, not our experiences or actions.
There is obviously an element of this eagerness to have one’s opinion tallied to social-media usage, and companies have been mining sites for market-research data for a while now. I wonder how many people change their answers, so to speak, in search of some of that attention online, and whether a certain amount of attention along those lines is necessary to feel like one belongs to a consumer society. The feeling of inclusion, after all, is not something you achieve once and for all, but is something that we continually crave and seek. Social media offers addictive reminders. The microaffirmations offered by Twitter and Facebook hinge on this need. What drives us to compulsively check is not merely the compulsive quest for novelty but also the comfort in the flattering illusion that this new information was offered to us in hopes that we would respond — that our opinion matters and we belong on our terms, under conditions in which we always get to have our say. Dozens of messages scrolling past me on Twitter, all begging me to retweet them: I feel so powerful!
As the engine of micro-moments of pseudo-belonging, social media encourages ephemeral participation that reflects no necessarily deep-held concerns but rather an eagerness to say anything while the microphone is on and someone might be listening. But increasingly this behavior is being taken as indicative of not of users’ impulsiveness but as indications of how they behave socially in general, as if the medium does not condition what they do, selectively recording only certain aspects of it. Social-media communication is being regarded as indistinguishable from other forms of communication that hold together social forms in real space, despite the way that real spaces tend to have nonnegotiable components to them that condition our reactions. Real spaces are now defined by requiring mandatory sorts of communication, communication that we can’t escape or time-shift or control the terms of. This is now what makes “real life” real: that we have to compromise and put up with other people’s bullshit without being able to just scroll past them on a screen.