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04 Jan

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“Me, ‘Person of the Year’? No thanks”

January 4, 2007 | By |

TIME Magazine’s Dec25 issue announced the person of the year to be “You.” The first reaction to the TIME cover seemed to be either happy cheering: “Eventually they got it!” Or rolling eyes. (To be honest, at the time I saw the cover I couldn’t quite decide: One the one hand, I was quite happy to see an influential publication like TIME cover the not-so-now-but-still-pretty-cool phenomenon user-generated content. They even seemed to somewhat understand it. On the other hand, it did have that flavor of being a bit cheap. Anyway.)

Now more thought-through and sophisticated reactions are emerging.

On Netzpolitik.org, Markus Ralf (Sorry, Ralf, and thanks for the hint!) stresses the risks involved in sharing too much personal data in social networking sites like MySpace, which are pretty much like a black box owned by major media corporations. We simply don’t know what exactly happens with our data, although it doesn’t take much fantasy to imagine what can be done with a little bit of data mining. That can’t be said too often. More importantly, he points out that while the blogosphere and all the other user-generated media (should we call them citizen media, or would that be too political?) definitively challenged the status quo of the media landscape, the challenge might be to kick out the massively commercial intermediaries.

Markus Ralf also points out a great op-ed piece by Siva Vaidhyanathan.

Consider this: the flagship publication of one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the world declares that flagship publications and powerful media conglomerates no longer choose where to hoist flags or exercise power. That’s exactly what happened last week when Time Magazine declared its Person of the Year to be you, me, and everyone who contributes content to new media aggregators like MySpace, Amazon, Facebook, YouTube, Ebay, Flickr, blogs and Google.

Yup, such they did. But let’s read on:

Well, thank you, Time, for hyping me, overvaluing me, using me to sell my image back to me, profiling me, flattering me, and failing to pay me. As soon as I saw myself on my local newsstand, I had to buy a copy of Time. Notice that Time framed the Person of the Year as “you.” That should sound familiar. Almost every major marketing campaign these days is about empowering “you.”

The issue of payment for the contributors keeps popping up all over the place. I’m still curious where we’re headed. More important, though, is the topic of identity. What constitutes “you?” Says Siva:

“You” have freedom of choice. “You” can let yourself be profiled so that “you” only receive solicitations from companies that interest “you.” “You” could customize “your” mobile phone with the “Hollaback Girl” ringtone, but “you” would not because that’s so 2004. So you choose Ne-Yo’s “Sexy Love” instead. “You” go to the Nike Store to get your own design of shoes. Because “you” roll like that. After all, “you” are an “Army of One.” But to quote the Who, “Who are You?” Are you the sum of your consumer preferences and MySpace personae? What is your contribution worth? It’s worth money to someone, if only as part of a whole.

But who needs “you” if there’s “we”?

The important movement online is not about “you.” It’s about “us.” It’s about our profound need to connect and share. It’s about our remarkable ability to create among circles — each person contributing a little bit to a poem, a song, a quilt, or a conversation. (…) But there are signs of real profound triumphs of “We.” Wikipedia is the best example. Blogs are another. Communities — both local and global — have generated amazing collections of content and communication in recent years. They have truly challenged the status-quo in ways that Time hypes so well.

I’d like to on quoting big chunks of Siva’s piece, ’cause it’s full of well thought-out ideas and addresses a great many issues: Is there a revolution going on; The tensions between democratic culture and commercial culture; Media control; and Narcissism.

But I won’t. You should read the whole article. Here.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the quote, but please give credit to whom it belongs: While Markus is Netzpolitik.org’s main blogger, there or a couple of people behind it. This entry came from me, as you see at the end. ;-)

  2. Thanks for the nice words!

    Siva

  3. Siva: Well, no, thank you for the article ;) (and sorry for the late response, btw!)