In psychoanalysis, the symptom is the failed attempt by the psyche to fully articulate unconscious drives and desires. The symptom can take any shape, but some commonly regarded examples are sleep challenges, Freudian slips, or disordered eating. The symptom fails because there is always a remainder of unconscious content which resists external symbolization. Slavoj Žižek asserts that Karl Marx, through his theory of the commodity, invented the symptom, which Freud then brought to public awareness via psychoanalysis.
Karl Marx interprets the commodity in the same manner that Sigmund Freud interprets dreams, and I would like to use that structure to interpret social media capital (such as user data/analytics/post performance).
In Marx, the exchange value of a commodity is not equivalent to the actual value of the labor exerted to produce the commodity. Surplus value accounts for the remainder–that which cannot be converted within the commodity for an equivalent exchange. In Freud, dream content does not encompass the full import of the dream. Latent dream thoughts are things that surface from a partial or pre-conscious awareness, but they carry with them unarticulated unconscious desires. These unconscious desires are analogous to the surplus value of commodities because they don’t translate equally. We cannot fully access or understand them beyond the text of the dream.
I contend that we can follow the same analytical structure to interpret social media capital. Statistical measures–likes, follows, shares, views–can never fully articulate the actual value of an individual’s presence or performance online. Like the remnant value unaccounted for in the commodity form (Marx), there is a remainder unaccounted for by social media performance indicators. The exchange value is disproportionate to the actual value of the creation or creator.
I find this useful because as an online content creator, it is really easy to become jaded by performance indicators that do not seem to match the time and effort I invest into creating and sharing my content–especially when other creators who appear to invest less time and effort are rewarded with regular statistical gains. I find it imperative to acknowledge the arbitrary nature of the subjective authority which measures and assigns value. In the case of commodities, it is the capitalist or the producer (or the market via supply and demand) who sets the value; in the case of social media, it is the programmers and the managers of the platform (or the users via engagement). Nevertheless, there is ample unrecognizable, unarticulated, and detached value floating around the ether, unmoored from the perceived quantifiable form.
Why does it matter? Because I aim for authenticity. Always. And authenticity is seldom rewarded on social media.
Nevertheless, I must recognize that my value as a human, as a free thinking subject, as a creator, and as a societal contributor is not contingent on any sort of external measure. My value exceeds the standards for appraisal.
Source Text: Chapter 1, The Sublime Object of Ideology by Slavoj Žižek