On the Commodification of Damn Near Everything

From the great electronic encyclopedia in the sky:

Commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas and people into commodities, or objects of trade. A commodity at its most basic, according to Arjun Appadurai, is “any thing intended for exchange,” or any object of economic value. People are commodified—turned into objects—when working, by selling their labour on the market to an employer.”

A year ago, a Seattle runner, training for a marathon, took a self-defense class. In the middle of a long training run, she hopped into a public bathroom on the Burke-Gilman trail, where she was attacked by a violent, deranged person inside her bathroom stall. Thought she was going to die. Then drew on her training, tapped her inner savage, and repelled her attacker.

Made the news. Clearly, a tough, resilient, inspiring woman. A few days ago, I listened to an update. She finished the Chicago Marathon and created a “NTMF” movement, Not Today Mother (something or other), which is intended to inspire women to learn self-defense. A good thing, but then the story took a sharp, predictable, commercial turn. T-shirts and coffee mugs now available for sale. Note too, she’s available for media inquiries and bookings.

A few months ago, pre-Weinstein, my favorite radio sports talk host, who I’ve enjoyed listening to for two decades, stopped by a Bellevue condo complex after a round of golf. Said it was for a massage. Turns out, he paid for sex. His radio station thanked him for his service.

After going dark for awhile, he turned to Twitter to revive his personal brand. He’s not selling t-shirts and coffee mugs, he’s selling himself. The vast majority of people responded positively, quick to forgive, hopeful he’ll get a new gig soon. He replied to darn near each person with a personal “thank you”. I’m sure they think he cares, that they have some sort of personal connection.

They’re all being played. How can he truly care about them, when he’s never met them? All he cares about is increasing his followers on Twitter. The higher that number, the better his odds of a second act.

Everyone is selling something. A friend tells me I’m no different. I’m selling ideas on the Humble Blog. Guilty as charged. But don’t underestimate my commercial chops. At last look, I had 61 Twitter followers.


We Project Our Work Worldviews Onto Others Without Realizing It

A good friend of mine spent decades as a sales manager. Now he manages managers. His compensation has always been based in part on commissions; as a result, he thinks employees are almost entirely motivated by money. Not just his employees, all employees. He’s grown so accustomed to the cutthroat competition of his workplace, he thinks free-market capitalism is the answer to whatever the question is. There’s no public sector, tenure, or labor unions in his work world, so they are economic problems, not solutions.

He’s a conservative. Another good friend, a liberal, is a transportation engineer for the Feds. Since he’s in charge of Washington State’s highways, I like love to complain to him about my daily commute. As an engineer, he believes any problem can be solved if we’re just rational enough. One form that rationality takes is letter writing. He thinks everyone should write letters, like he does, to people in leadership positions because they still influence policy even in this information saturated, digital world in which we live. And he’s absolutely right, the world would be a better place if everyone followed his lead.

But his engineer friends and him don’t seem to appreciate how differently other people think. People like me. I confess that I don’t feel much sense of efficacy at all. If I’m honest, I feel like my worsening commute is done to me, I feel totally defenseless. As evidence of that, I don’t even vote in a lot of local elections. I’m an educated writer, so if I feel that way, how many others are likely to pick up paper, pencil, envelope, and stamp despite our engineer friends’ very well intended rationality.

That sorry state of affairs didn’t stop my friend from sending me an email yesterday titled “Public comments wanted on the draft Washington Transportation Plan”. With this little addendum, “No comments made then no whining allowed.” The bold is him raising his voice which he only does when a local high school football ref makes an iffy call. One more detail to note in the email. “Washington State Department of Transportation seeking input on 20-year plan by Nov. 6.” 20-YEAR PLAN. That’s hilarious.

I’m glad our state’s traffic engineers are thinking in 20 year terms, however, it’s cray cray for them to think non-engineers like yours truly think similarly. In twenty years I want to be napping in my back seat as my car drives me to the Home Course for a quick 18. When I think of transportation infrastructure, hell, when I think of life, the short-term is 1-2 years, the medium-term is 5 years, and the longest term is 10 years.

Note to engineers. Non-engineers think differently. If you want to enlist their help in data gathering and problem-solving, you have to be a lot more savvy in reaching out to them. You’re probably better off delegating it to people rooted in the social sciences and humanities.

This subconscious tendency to generalize from one’s work and then to project one’s work worldview onto others is probably inevitable. As are the associated conflicts and frustrations when others don’t conform to expectations.

I’m sure I generalize from my work and project my work worldview onto others too, I just need to think more about the ways I do that. I will report back in 20 years.

Reader Beware

From today’s inbox.

Hi Ron,

We are interested in sending over a quality and relevant article to your site (pressingpause.com) as a contribution. Is this something you might consider? If yes, please email me back and I’ll be happy to send over the article for your review asap.

Note that the copy will include a few references to our client. We’ll also pay you $100 per post through PayPal, for your time and effort. I look forward to hearing from you, Ron.

Have a good day!

Marketing Manager
[email address]

You’re probably hip to product placement in television and film, but what about in on-line and traditional print? When reading, do you ever ask, “What am I being sold?” If not, it’s time to start.

Please help me refine my reply to Ms. Marketing Manager. Here’s what I have so far.

Dear Ms. Marketing Manager,

Hell no.


Ronald S. Byrnes