In fact, the digital landscape so effectively monopolizes economic activity that most people have almost nothing left to be extracted. That’s why in order to maintain some semblance of growth, Internet companies had to find a way to monetize something other than cash from its users. Something measurable, countable, and attractive enough to shareholders to justify their real cash investment in the companies’ stock.
That’s right: “likes.”
Social media originally appeared to be an alternative to the marketplace ethos of the dot-com era. After the dot-com boom and bust, fledgling social platforms such as Friendster, Blogger, and Myspace seemed to be offering a return to the more peer-to-peer sensibility of the early Internet. But the alternative value systems they created— likes, views, reblogs, favorites, and so on— became a new kind of currency. It’s more than a mere trend in marketing styles away from broadcast advertising toward peer-to-peer social influence. It amounts to a shift in the way we value everything from entertainment and culture to consumer goods and the stock market. Likes are a new way to stoke the growth furnace.
Likes themselves are a metric of worth— and not just for teenagers gauging their social status. Real companies are valued in terms of the likes they can generate. Brands from soft drinks to automobiles check their social media traffic for upticks on a daily if not hourly basis. A multitude of sweepstakes ask consumers to do nothing more than like or retweet an ad for a chance to win cash and other prizes. According to research conducted mostly by social media companies, these “social” recommendations— particularly from trusted “friends”— mean a whole lot more than plain advertisements.
Rushkoff, Douglas. Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity (p. 31). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.