internet-new-forms

How the internet is creating a new currency

So there’s this video going around the interwebs (full video here).

Long story short – sorority girls spend 10 minutes taking photo of themselves at baseball game.

sorority-baseball-game

My first thought was, “this is insane”, but the video perfectly illustrates something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time.

Personally, I think what I’m going to write about below is a key building block of the future of society, and many industries for that matter.

The internet is changing everything, and enabling a new type of value creation. And this video of sorority girls taking selfies illustrates it.

Fueled by Ego

Major technology companies like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, and Snapchat are platforms to fuel one’s ego. Put simply, I want to give people the impression that my life is interesting, and that happens through posting photos, updates about my life, etc. I’m meticulously pruning my self-image for the rest of the world.

For LinkedIn, I want to show others that I know what I’m having a “successful” career. I keep my work history up to date, post my job title, and constantly login to see who’s looked at my profile because I want validation that what I do at work is worthwhile. This “validation” I want is manifested when someone like a recruiter reaches out and asks if I want to go work at their lame company.

For Instagram, I post interesting photos as I experience life around me. The validation that I’m looking for is people to “like” my stuff. I want people to know about my life, and to “approve” of it.

For Facebook, I post an update about the fact that I just bought a condo. “Yay, Luke did something right in life. He and his wife bought a place, that’s cool” and then they “like” the photo or leave a comment to signal their approval to me.

New Currency

If you look at examples throughout history, this “signaling of worth” is not new. People used to walk around in purple robes because it signaled that they were part of a different social class, and this was how people derived a sense of self-worth.

Another example, in medieval times, the Bible and other books were only owned by extremely wealthy people. So if you had a library, you were successful.

Nowadays, whether you want to believe it or not, but there’s a new currency. It’s these tiny things, like Facebook likes, Instagram hearts, and followers. 

Social media profiles are the new banks of this value, and there’s a brand-new factor.

Unlimited Reach

Let’s go back to the rich people in purple robes example. If I walked around in a purple robe, there’s a limit to the number of people that can notice this. If I’m emperor of Lukeville, and there’s only 100 people, the social currency I can collect from this display of worth has a ceiling. I can only collect ___ units of value.

But this internet has changed this.

Now – if I’m a really jacked guy who loves to lift weights and do Crossfit (I don’t by the way), in theory, I could have an unlimited number of fans/followers/etc because the internet has made this reach possible.

We’re seeing Youtube stars with millions of video views and fans. People post photos and get thousands of hearts on Instagram. It’s a new display of self-worth! 

Now, you don’t even need to know me to deposit money. You could live in Japan, and send money to the “bank of Luke” by following me on Twitter, or subscribing to my blog.

Another interesting byproduct is that an unlimited ceiling only encourages people to do more activities to build this wealth. It never ends.

Transferrable

Continuing on with this notion of a new social currency, this new currency IS transferrable. If I have a ton of Instagram followers, that can actually help me in “the real world.” That could land me a product endorsement, free tickets to a football game, or help me connect with other cool people with lots of followers of their own. I clearly post photos of these events, and the cycle continues.

Envy + “Work”

Another interesting byproduct of this new currency is envy. We always want something we don’t have. If someone has a ton of followers on Instagram, that has the potential to create envy. “I want more people to care about my life.” Therefore I will try to create value by posting photos, status updates, etc.

In a weird way, these sorority girls in the video were HARD AT WORK. They wanted the picture to be just right (and spent 5 minutes trying), because they wanted to receive the social currency after they posted the photos via tweets/likes/etc.

Negative Implications

There’s absolutely a downside to this new form of currency. For example, I personally believe that the media attention is a major contributor to the increase in mass shootings. Why? It’s because people strive to be noticed and seen. That can manifest itself in horrifying forms. Listen to what the Oregon shooter posted online:

“I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

I believe the same inner desire that wants attention by getting millions of views/followers on Youtube can go horribly wrong. These shooters get the attention of millions of people by doing terrible things, instead of doing something that actually benefits society (like rescuing a puppy and having the video upvoted to the homepage of Reddit).

What does all this mean?

Look at industries that have been built around these signals of self-worth. Porsche creates sports cars for people to signal that they’ve done something right at life…the list goes on and on.

But, now, thanks to the Internet, I can go to the Bahamas and sleep in an awesome treehouse that I booked through Airbnb, post it on Instagram, and get a ton of people to deposit money into the bank of Luke by favoriting this photo. I don’t even need to buy the treehouse!

Scan through your social media feed right now. Where is this social currency being deposited? That’s the model for the future. 

Oh, and if you work in internet marketing, this is a key to building products that people regularly use. Look at human behavior. Seek to understand the reasoning behind why people do certain things. Tap into that desire when trying to get people to use/buy your stuff.

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