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Life is now, easily, a continuum: a straight line with periodic events, which now look only a little different from one another. The precarious nature of this continuum, just like life, has made our anxiety levels peak--– now the central force behind all our actions. Given this stressful backdrop, we are drawn, from time to time, into a spiral of self- introspection: an attempt to get meaning out of this continuum on repeat mode. This leads to bouts of self-indulgence: an attempt to break away from the self-perceived monotony of our lives and indulge in other pursuits.

To our ‘aid’ are “digital tools"- the latest by-product of the ‘digital era’: These tools by their very artificial nature tell us what, when, how, where, who of almost everything that we now do in a repeat mode - work, eat, read, shop, walk, exercise, entertain, play, pleasure and so on. Never before has there been such an enhanced focus on the “self": In other words, they say how we have been reduced to a commodity.

The commodification of self would seem to be a misnomer. If a commodity is a product, something that can be bought and sold, then in what sense can the self be commodified?

According to Joseph E. Davis, Research Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, there are two possible meanings of this modern, new age phenomenon.

First, is that self-understanding is mediated by the consumption of goods and images. In this sense, self-definition depends on the appropriation of the traits of commodities. We know who we are, and we judge the quality of our inner experience through identification with the things we buy.

A second meaning of self-commodification involves the reorganization of our personal lives and relationships on the model of market relations. This adaptation is well illustrated by the recent practice of “personal branding," a strategy of cultivating a name and image of ourselves that we manipulate for economic gain.

Both of these meanings of self-commodification concern the terms in which we define ourselves and our well-being, and each has been facilitated by the loosening of self-definitions from specific social roles and obligations.

Social identities remain but as one is turned into a consumer, they are increasingly shaped and conditioned by patterns of consumption. We identify our real selves by the choices we make from the images, fashions, and lifestyles available in the market, and these, in turn, become the vehicles by which we perceive others, and they, us.

At a time when touch is taboo, social distancing is the norm, there is a heightened need for e-commerce such that global sales record is being set. One example: according to data from IBM's U.S. Retail Index, the pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years.

Given that branding is such a strong instrument to market goods and products, it then follows naturally that individuals will very consciously brand themselves to stand shoulders above others in a marketplace of ‘winners and losers’; to be seen as different and better than the ‘pack and use this branding to get financial and social prestige and positive ‘feedback’ from others in terms of likes and other positive emoticons.'

As behavioural experts have put it, we are the “CEOs of our companies". Or in other words, “We are bosses of our own ‘enterprises." Self-branding allows us to position ourselves consciously in a social marketplace. This is not only limited to adults, even kids are getting into this. Look at how Ed-Tech platforms are also milking this: kids under 5-6 years are being labelled as world class coders. Welcome social e-commerce, where three is an entire market of people selling stuff over Facebook and Instagram. These are essentially mom and pop brands leveraging "self- commodification" trait and selling stuff over social media platforms.

In the latest dispatch of Mint Startup Diaries, we speak with Mohit Bhatnagar, Managing Director, Sequoia Capital India, and Radhika Sridharan - Partner - Bain & Company, who has recently co-authored a report "unlocking the future of commerce in India". According to the experts, e-commerce—powered by cheap data, supply-side innovations and digitally savvy customers—has become a $30 billion industry in India in fiscal year 2020. More than 100 million of India’s estimated 572 million Internet users purchase products online.

And the next frontier is social, they posit.

Watch the video to know more:

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