An Imposition Economy

We have established an imposition economy. It’s no secret that we live in an attention-based and meticulously curated sensory space. With an onslaught of unnecessary, rudimentary, over-the-top, and in every way intensified way of consuming media, the imposition economy rules. Now, what do I mean by imposition economy? I’m talking about the mode by which we reach people. More often than not, products and services appear before us without us asking. They come in form of pop-up ads, billboards while driving, unsolicited emails, and many other ways. But the same goes for individual branding. People are becoming personal brands, whether they like it or not. Their information is available online, and we can glean an overview of a distorted version of that individual.

The imposition economy works in conjunction with the quantification of individuals. It works in regimentation, however strict or loose. The individual has become a publication by releasing “candid updates” of his or her individuality and lifestyle. From the part of the individual, when he or she does not have outer-formed social cache, imposition can become the mode of this brand creation. Boiled down, social media is another form of validation. Brick and mortar institutions have had their day and are still playing a part in this validation process. However, social media has cultivated a more direct and more vicious formulation of societal branding, conforming, and objectification.

Moon photo by Nathan Anderson

To speak of the imposition economy is tricky, because it relies on an initial process of opting in.

This is to say that those who will be imposed on readily accept inclusion in the updates provided by the individual brands that they follow. What they rely on thereafter is that the individual brand will deliver, but not over-deliver or under-deliver. There is a fine line between the two, and imposition occurs depending on the follower’s arbitrary judgment of over-deliverance. Note that this imposition is only one of the ways on which I use the term. The judgment is arbitrary because if it does not depend on strict measures. This judgment can depend on formulation of communication, including disclosure of opinion that the follower does not agree with. For example, one individual may follow another, who then begins consistently posting regarding his or her new business venture. The follower then becomes uncomfortable with the content he or she is receiving. This imposition is agreed to, but can end at any time. However, there are sometimes social repercussions for unfollowing an individual.

The relationship between the follower and the individual brand is voyeuristic versus mutual.

The imposition economy is associative on many levels as well. Beyond tying the follower to opinions, lifestyle, and scandal, he or she is also tied to his habitual voyeurism. Social media brings the intimacy of individuals right into the palms and onto the computer screens of varying groups of people. The delayed and masked voyeurism becomes normative, if not encouraged. It’s not uncommon for people and companies to screen others by looking at their social media presences.┬áHere, the complexity of social media is all the more cast. Not only is the imposition economy dependent on opting in, but it’s dependent on approved voyeurism. It subverts all of the traditional social barriers that constitute etiquette.

Forest photo by Teddy Kelley

Spinning mores on their head, social media conflates deviant behaviors with expected behaviors.

Voyeurism and imposition make up social media and we are expected to reconcile these behaviors with our “real world” actions. In one arena of our lives, we act one way, which in another we act quite contrary. These deviations are normative online, yet when we interact in person, we find it hard to disclose our online activities with as much openness. We are faceted into a pseudo-closeted online user, who often misidentifies with our walking-breathing self. The imposition is demanded and expected. We’ve all become the shameless peddling salesmen of our own personal brand.