Você é o que tuita

You Are What You Tweet
por Tony Tulathimutte
The New Yorker
Set 2013

Sua vida depende cada vez mais dos likes que recebe e de ter muitos (e bons) resultados nas buscas do Google. Assim como um produto, você é avaliado pelo impacto causado pela sua imagem na web.

When Mark Zuckerberg, the C.E.O. of Facebook, started appearing at local haunts in San Francisco’s Mission District last year, one blog speculated that he was attempting to “rebrand himself as a Mission hipster.” It’s an apt turn of phrase, one that conveys the casual predominance of “personal branding,” the practice that Zuckerberg’s company has popularized: managing your presentation—your behavior, appearance, reputation, online persona—to stand out in your professional and personal lives.

The Oxford Dictionaries Online last week added the term “selfie”—the self-portrait taken in solitude and submitted to the gaze of millions, turning each of us into his own paparazzo. Although image maintenance is nothing new, the images we’re presenting are now available online, all the time, and are presumed to meaningfully represent us. Personal branding is the subtext of all social networking: when we post vacation photos, we attest to our ability to take luxurious vacations; when we post pictures of our babies, we present ourselves as proud and caring parents; when we crack wise about current events, we demonstrate our wit, relevance, and political leanings.

In this climate of willful transparency, our employers have access to much of the same information as our friends and family, so now this posturing is professionally incentivized; and when we hear about companies mandating minimum Klout scores for new hires, or the college kid hired by The Atlantic for his Twitter proficiency, or the hapless dozens fired or arrested for reckless status updating, or that ninety-three per cent of companies “use social media tools and systems for recruiting most positions,” we may be inclined to think, O.K., it couldn’t hurt to step up my Twitter game.

It’s not like most younger people need any incentive: it can only bolster our natural inclinations to preen and collect “likes.” And if we happen to find that our social networking incidentally cashes out in job interviews, dates, event attendance, or Kickstarter backings—well, bonus, right?

In many ways, the circumstances under which corporate brand strategy first rose to prominence have reëmerged. The U.S. unemployment rate during the worst of our most recent recession is comparable to that of the early nineteen-eighties. As Naomi Klein writes in “No Logo,” corporations responded to that earlier economic dip by deciding that, rather than produce goods themselves, they should buy cheaply made goods abroad and brand them with appealing images. The strategy was successful, and led to what Klein calls “an endless parade of brand extensions, continuously renewed brand imagery for marketing and, most of all, fresh new spaces to disseminate the brand’s idea of itself”—branded clothes, events, foreheads, and so on.

Since then, the U.S. economy, following the typical course of development, has seen service-oriented jobs rise while labor-intensive industries like manufacturing have sharply declined. Success in a service job—providing tech support, selling cars, assisting the elderly—often involves getting people to see you as competent and likeable. With high competition for employment, personal branding has come to feel like a job-hunting prerequisite; indeed, the prevalence of Google searches for “personal branding” has roughly doubled since 2004. Now that what we have to offer in the service economy is ourselves, the rules of branding extend to us.

Tom Peters, a business guru and former McKinsey consultant, was named in the 1996 Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s “most highly paid management consultant”; in a 1998 review of a book by Peters, James Surowiecki wrote, “What American corporations have become is what Peters has encouraged them to be.” Peters coined the phrase “personal branding” in his 1997 essay “The Brand Called You.” “I was just reflecting what I’d been living amidst in Silicon Valley in the early 1990s—Apple, John Sculley,” he later recalled. “I could see it was a different world coming.”

Peters’s ideas soon spawned a mini industry of personal-brand coaching, with its own body of literature and host of imitators. His 1999 book “The Brand You 50: Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an ‘Employee’ into a Brand That Shouts Distinction, Commitment, and Passion!” includes such chapter titles as:


13. Brand You: WALK THE TALK. (“We must become the change we want to see in the world.” —Gandhi)

17a. You are the WOW-ness of every project. So: Score WOW-ness!

O.K., then, how to score WOW-ness? Do I call my aesthetician? Get my teeth bleached? The prescriptions start off simple: register a domain name, get a nice business card, make lists of goals and assets, collect e-mail addresses. But then, as Peter Montoya warns in his book, also titled “The Brand Called You,” “Once you create a Personal Brand, there’s no turning back.” He writes:

Every time you fail, you dent your brand slightly. Enough failures—enough contradictions of your promise—and you’ll wreck your brand. People will start to assume that your promise is a lie and that you’re a phony. Then you’re sunk. Mayday.

That’s why once you create a Personal Brand, everything you do is branding.

He then lists a few things conscientious personal branders must attend to:

What you drive
What you wear
Where you dine
What charities you give to
Where you attend church
How clean the exterior of your building is
How your home looks
How you shake hands

In other words, you must collapse your personal and professional life into static, pixel-perfect unity. It’s not just that you have to field work e-mails at home or invite coworkers to your cocktail parties; it’s that your entire personal life now factors into your employability. Your livelihood increasingly depends on being likeable and well-documented, and just like a branded product, your basic worth is assessed by the WOW-ness of its image.

The branding gurus know that most people squirm at the phoniness of contriving an identity. “Good personal brands have nothing to do with snake oil. They are completely authentic,” one affirms. Most coaches urge you to “be yourself,” implying that all people are desirable products, deep down, if they get the messaging right. “Your Personal Brand is you, enhanced and expressed using polished, well-crafted communication methods,” Montoya writes.

So, to reiterate: wear the right clothes, attend a well-squeegeed church, and project seamless consistency and competence across every department of your life—you know, be yourself. This is a worldview that doesn’t really leave room for people fundamentally opposed to self-promotion. (But who knows, maybe they’re all dead: as Peters wrote in an update to “The Brand Called You,” “Remember my mantra: distinct … or extinct.”)

Today, personal branding is such an entrenched value that news organizations routinely weigh in on how affairs have “tarnished” various brands: Obama’s, A-Rod’s, Paula Deen’s. College applicants are urged to polish their personal brands, perhaps to get into one of the colleges that now offer personal-branding classes.

And it may not even be possible to opt out. A Stanford CareerConnect seminar echoes a common personal-branding mantra: “You already have a personal brand, whether you know it or not.… The question is, are you going to manage it or not?” The more that your reputation is understood to represent the larger self, and the more our private lives are seamlessly disseminated by new technologies, the more our real lives become delimited by market demand.

If you’re serious about managing your brand, then, you shouldn’t say anything unprofessional that someone in earshot might attribute to you in a tweet (better dial down the irony, while you’re at it). Think twice before you make Facebook friends with radicals of any persuasion—you never know what the leanings of prospective hirers or clients will be. And for God’s sake, don’t make rude hand gestures, don’t show any skin unless you’re a model, and don’t go anywhere seedy. “Be conservative when cameras are around,” NBC News advises.

The philosopher Jean Baudrillard worried about the crisis of meaning that emerges when perfect simulations end up displacing whatever they simulate: “present-day simulators attempt to make the real, all of the real, coincide with their models of simulation.” This speaks to the program of personal branding: to create the mold of “your best life,” squeeze yourself in, take a photo, and endlessly reproduce the resulting image online. As one branding coach puts it in a blurb praising another coach, “What you look like online is actually what is real.”

Even with the knowledge that our communications are being monitored by the government, it’s still premature to declare the “death of privacy” in a strict sense; we can, if we choose, carry on conversations that are forgotten, have thoughts that go untweeted, leave the house without our phones. The more immediate threat may be the surrender of private identity: to perfect the total image of an impressive life, we prune off the parts of ourselves that can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t be seen.

Tony Tulathimutte is a fiction writer and essayist who has contributed to AGNI, Threepenny Review, The American Reader, and Malahat Review.

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