Cover photo

Buy to Be(long)

A little rant

It's nearly impossible to go anywhere without being told to buy something. The library is one of the few places you can be in without having to purchase anything.

Go on a stroll through a city, and countless posters and screens will suggest that this is the product that'll fix you (or at least will make you have as much fun as the people in the liquor ads).

"Every single product represents the hope for a dazzling shortcut to the promised land." - Mark Fisher in Capitalist Realism

Online, there are even more calls to action to order now because something has just gone on sale, and you totally need it to fit the current trendy aesthetic. By the way, there is a Death count for Black Fridays. Can't get more sinister than this can it?

Sure, ads everywhere, whatever, that is just the new normal we're tolerating. Suggesting that my beer consumption will save the rainforest (Bitburger) is just another way of capitalism to make us consume emotions instead of functionality (getting drunk).

Snacks loaded with sugar on kids' shows, no outrage anymore. After all, it's good for the economy. More diabetes means more money for big pharma to be made. Hello, Vicious circle of Growth by Baudrillard, that you?

Nothing is too holy to be slaughtered at the altar of Capital.

All of the above is outrageous enough to warrant a rant.

Community = New growth hack

Recently, though, one thing I've noticed even more than just the typical big corporations selling us on how much their products will make us feel superior (iPhone users, for example, or Tesla fanbois) is that now communities are leveraged to sell stuff.

Once upon a time, I was commissioned to write a report on how brands can use Roblox... It felt like I had sold my soul, telling brands that they should be on Roblox to basically prime kids early to associate their brand with fun.

This was a glimpse at that since brands have become so undifferentiated if you go by function alone, they need to sell on vibes and community.

It feels problematic.

We search for meaning in our lives, but all we get is the message that "buy this and get to be part of a community".

The need to connect is deeply human. So much so that John Vervake, a cognitive psychologist researching the meaning crisis, has emphasized it as the primary way we perceive meaning.

After all, we cannot define ourselves without the existence of others. Connecting with the world and those around us is how we figure out our place.

This is hard, though, as our world becomes increasingly one lived through the lens of a camera.

"A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it — by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir." - Susan Sontag

One where what we see is defined by an algorithm and companies with a deep budget to show you what you are supposed to purchase. A shift from being to appearing.

The quest for connection in a landscape dominated by commodified connections is a Quixotian endeavor.

It's not just that.

Pressure also comes from supposed "online communities" around hobbies, where the prime message is that you need ever-more expensive equipment to improve your skills.

You don't.

This seems even worse than when the big evil corporations are the driving force. At least there is a centralized force of power you can blame. A little Evli Corp Hate can do wonders for your blood circulation.

Not so much when these people pressure each other to buy stuff without any real incentive. I guess kudos to consumerism for achieving this level of cult.

Are they all deluding themselves into believing that better equipment results in better skills? Are they all looking for a shortcut?

Buying-to-belong is as terrible a mechanism as play-to-earn was.

In crypto, we're not even sugarcoating any of that. At least some of these brands make it sound as if you'd become part of an amazing "community" empowering each other, making the world a better place one coffee at a time blabla.

People often openly mention community as part of their utility offering. Of course, this sounds better than saying we're just looking for dumb people to dump on and don't want to build anything useful.

As a utilitarian, that framing seems alright.

Through that lens everything has a utility and can be measured by that.

Including your mum.

Something just feels off about that.

Community as a commodity doesn't sit right with me.

But what are these communities where the only value one cares about profoundly is the token price going up?

Is that even a community or just a bunch of mercenaries?

Of course, there are exceptions. Galverse and Metalabel offered a positive experience, and I made a bunch of real friends and a pen pal with them. And on Farcaster there are quite a few great ones as well.

Crypto is supposedly all about decentralizing and giving power to the community.

But how do you do that when the community is a toxic wasteland of airdrop farmers and KOLs trying to shorten their unlock periods and sybils?

There might be people in these communities who want to connect and contribute.

But it's quite a burden to be them when one is constantly confronted with the insanity of the rest, drowning out any attempt at sensible communication.

Points programs do the rest.

“Today, the gamification logic of ‘Likes’, ‘Friends’ and ‘Followers’ means that social communication is also being plugged into and subordinated to a game mode. The corollary of the gamification of communication is its commercialization. That said, this process is destroying human communication.” - Byung Chul Han in Psychopolitics

I reckon if one was nefarious enough, this could read as inspiration to do some crypto project that suggests to people that they'll finally find a sense of belonging and monetize that.

It isn't that.

If anything, it's a CTA to not think of community as a revenue driver. Nor, as a bunch of morons, you can get to farm your token, so it looks like you have high protocol adoption.

In the end, we're not doing ourselves a favor with that.

Quite the opposite.

Shouldn't we be better than the existing extractive system that enslaves anything for the purpose of capital accumulation?

Just sayin.

Thanks for reading. 💚

This rant was loosely inspired by reading some VC posts about how they are investing in what makes life worth living, and then they listed "product-led" communities.

I'm sorry.

But products are not making my life worth living.

Nor do they provide it with meaning.

If they did, life would be so easy.

As I often struggle with meaning...

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