Avoid the cult of personal brand: People are not prducts

There’s this phrase that’s been making the rounds the last few years that has really got me a bit ticked off. It’s the idea of the “PERSONAL BRAND.” Notice that it’s all in caps and you get a sense of why it’s both silly, narcissistic, and to be avoided like the plague or a presidential debate.

Back in the old days, folks talked about their (or your) reputation. That reputation was based, largely, on what you did. It went along with your resume and was pretty much your calling card in the world of business, and in general. The key is that you were judged on actual missions accomplished, damsels rescued, dragons slain, and cancer cured.

Today, your personal brand is arrived at by maniacally posting things on social media platforms every time you do anything from visiting the gym, to getting coffee to successfully making a cake. In other words, you create it and that means that, depending on how creative you are, you could pretty much be anything.

As a prime example of personal brand, let’s have a look at none other than media darling and self-made creature, Kim Kardashian.

Kim was born the daughter of a prominent lawyer and, thanks to a strategically released intimate tape, came on the pop media radar. A little subtle (not) cosmetic surgery, some more astounding nude photos, a scary reality TV show, some forays into the clothing business, and marriage to a rapper — and suddenly we have one of the most famous faces on the planet.

And she has done not a single thing to better the planet or mankind. Her job, for want of a better word, is to be looked at going about her “normal” life.

Another grand practitioner of personal brand is ubiquitous bully and serial bankruptcy artist Donald Trump. He parlayed a chance birth into a wealthy family into a mildly successful career in real estate, divorce, cheesy casinos, and now a run for the White House.

This has pretty much the entire planet wondering if anyone is nuts enough to actually vote for the guy. And it’s all due to the Trump brand, which is supposed to represent class, style, and wealth. And believe that it does, because Donnie will tell you so; he’s been flapping his gums for decades.

These two examples clearly illustrate how ambitious people essentially use the media to create a version of themselves that they sell as if they were products. But people aren’t products and that’s why this whole thing is so insidious.

The simple reality is that we have become so focused on putting prices on everything (monetizing is the current term) that the idea of selling yourself is totally cool with many people. But what they are selling is a made up amalgam of self-generated nonsense and cell-phone photos that has nothing to do with one’s actual skills or abilities.

Some people might argue with me and suggest that personal brand is simply the current incarnation of reputation. But as noted, I strongly disagree. However we’ve all become so comfortable using and interacting via social media that the idea of a world that exists outside of it is becoming blurry.

In some sectors of the world, people have become so immersed in social media that, if something is not posted, it never happened. The old, if a tree fell in the forest thing, has become way too real.

So what can be done to keep everyone on Earth from having to have their own reality TV show? What can we do to avoid having to constantly post everything we do all day long to justify or prove our existence?

I suppose the simple answer is to just say no. Of course we all know how successful that was when Nancy Reagan suggested we do it to drugs back in the ’80s, but at least it’s a start.

Each day when you get up, think about what you want to actually accomplish that day. Not what you want to post. Go out and do things. Meet humans in person or at least talk to them in real time. Spend as much time immersed in the real world as possible.

Stay off social media as much as you can and, if you must use it, treat it like alcohol. Use it sparingly and please don’t Facebook and drive. Finally, when judging others, think long and hard about what you really know of them as opposed to what has been posted.

The bottom line is that people are not products. And products are not more important than people. Keep that straight in your mind and we may all emerge from the current morass with our reputations intact and our minds clear. Otherwise we’re all going to end up walking around covered in logos like NASCAR cars with legs.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has a reputation as a humorous and slightly unhinged writer and computer technician; this is because he’s been writing and fixing computers for a few decades and not really making a big deal about it. His company has a logo, he doesn’t.