Self-identity for sale

Marketplace Staff Oct 10, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: If you wanna get a look at what Google spent $1.6 billion on yesterday, click on over to YouTube.com. Hit the link for the video that says “A Message from Chad and Steve.” That would be YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. They did what the site is known for. They filmed an amateurish home movie for Web surfers about being bought out.

The Google deal’s not really about video. It’s about ads and the money to be made. But commentator and marketing expert Adam Hanft says something else is being overlooked.


ADAM HANFT: In a curious inversion of Marxism, the millions of people who upload videos to YouTube haven’t thrown off their chains, they’ve embraced them.

People are positively jubilant about spending time and effort to create videos or discover them, and then post them for free.

But why? There’s no economic benefit to them. And that defies classic economic theory that says we are all rational beings and act only in our own self-interest.

YouTubers do what they do because it’s a form of uncensored self-expression. They circulate elements of themselves, put those personal fragments out into the world, and that exhibitionism becomes a signifier of their very being.

In short, YouTube-ing serves a powerful need.

Putting up a video of their cat swimming is clearly not in the economic self-interest of the person who does it. But it’s clearly in their emotional self-interest.

Those who argued that the Internet is an isolating phenomenon completely misread the latent powers of connection it represents.

You see, those who upload videos are offering a part of themselves to the world. And they’re “selling” their self-identity by doing so.

As part of this, YouTube democratizes celebrity by making 15 minutes of fame accessible to all through 15 million shared pixels.

So the genius of YouTube was that it recognized the hunger to be visible, the stem-cell of all this user-generated content.

So YouTube was actually a new form of virtual manufacturing — distributing the factory to millions of laptops across the country.

Which might just be, sadly enough, the only manufacturing left that America still knows how to do well.

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