Identity through consumption

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Good Old Trend

Buying physical things (clothes, cars, gadgets) as a part of creating your identity has been going on since the beginning of commerce. Strangely enough this is one of the few behaviours that haven’t followed us to the internet. Consumption on the internet in there, paying for premium levels or online shopping, but not the connection between the consumption of physical things and your online identity. Until now.

First the steps that preceded this:

1. Identity through listing information
Online communities make us used to social documentation such as interest listings, choice of music, random philosophical quote or otherwise identity creating statements. This is old hat by now, everyone has done it one way or another. Even the template your blog uses is a statement – or a non-statement – about who you are, or who you want to be (my template says that I’m lazy :).

2. Identity through listing your ambition
43things aims to document your ambitions in life – what do you want to do? What efforts do you want others to see when they try to get a picture of who you are? Missions like “go out with the trash more often” are unlikely to turn up on these types of sites. Instead you document the things that you want others to think that you want to do. This is of course just as much a statement of your identity as listing your favourite music or food.

3. Identity through non-physical consumption
Physical goods aside, consumption as an identity creator is still powerful. South Korean community Cyworld sell their virtual currency for $300 000 a day, and this is solely used for virtual consumption. Second Life is similar of course. These two examples differ from the ones in point 4 below. Buying things in these two communities is still connected to the online identity and aims to enhance your character, rather than to document your physical life. These are two very different things.

4. Identity through physical consumption
AllConsuming.net and Zebo.com are sites aiming to document your consumption. What do you own? Who else owns the same things? And be sure that once you’ve stated what you’ve got, you’ll get a few recommendations of what to buy next thrown in as well (along with default affiliate programme).

Apart from the interesting issue of Amazon buying one or the other, this outlines the fact that the things you own in the physical world are transferred to the internet. Presuming that people don’t lie about what they own (which I’m sure happens frequently) this is a fairly new behaviour. It connects your personality-driven consumption with a specific online identity. The personality / online identity issue is an interesting one, but that’ll have to be some other time.

Creating desirability through purchased physical goods is standard. But not on the internet. Not until now.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the issue of identity through the lack of consumption.

(I also heard met Rob Curley for the second time today, his talk was excellent. I’ll write a few key points here soon as well)

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