Treating People as Commodity?


“The end product of the Industrial Revolution was the end of the connection of kinship and trust — now, people are commodities.”

I don't have the link to the podcast the quote above came from, but it does pack a punch.

All this talk about democratization, of our ability to express ourselves with social media is still likely a gigantic illusion.

Here's why. The quote made me think about some examples from direct and indirect experiences.

Desperately seeking links

The PR pitch that demonstrates the person making it didn't bother reading the publication it seeks to get published on. This is a situation when a simple search would have resulted in finding a post about the very topic they are pitching. A missed opportunity.

That is not the most embarrassing moment.

Another PR tack is to offer an 'expert' for commentary on a timely topic when the publication does not cover that topic (there must be an over supply of experts, at the tune of about 5-7 per day.) The same agency the 'expert' hired or the 'expert' is from responds with the following:

I'm sorry, we thought you were an influencer in the marketing sector who might like a connection to one of the nation's top marketing research firms. Obviously we were way off the mark.

Would anyone enjoy being on the receiving end of such a note? A better question, yet — is the executive who is being pitched aware of what is going on while his name and that of his firm are associated with a clear lack of professionalism?

There are plenty of stories more egregious than these. Just run a search, and bring your hard hat.

Casting a wide net in a small pond

This is a classic scenario for many job hunters I've talked with while networking over the years. A recruiter asks for all kinds of information and then either over or under sells the candidate, or not at all.

Never hearing back is another classic. Or hearing from the recruiter when the firm announces a fabulous hire for that very job a few short weeks later — the candidate is just one more email on a list.

Another interesting scenario is when all kinds of people recommend a candidate to a recruiter and yet said recruiter never bothers to contact them. It is a small world and reputation is hard earned and quickly tarred. We are all connected to each other by less than five degrees of separation.

Word gets around fast. Yes, people learn about the details even in competitive bids for talent, offer amounts, etc. Assume everyone hears about the numbers and percentages sooner rather than later. Honesty is often just one search or call away.

Bidding for influence

I've been staying out of the more recent discussions on "online influence", because I believe that eventually things have a way of working out for the best. Smart businesses see through gimmicks, especially those that come back to haunt them.

Here are some thoughts on influence for the dedicated professionals.

Two recent posts worth reading about Klout: scoring social: the rise and fall of Klout and five questions Klout can't answer. Both allude to scoring users and profiles automatically, and the score indicating popularity, which would mean the game being played in an entirely different one.

I opted out of Klout recently. I had added my @ConversationAge Twitter profile (and no other network) to see how it was working, and I never added my @valeriamaltoni Twitter account, which nonetheless had been opted in the system, so I had to sign on Klout with it in order to opt out. A simple @ reply should suffice.


The moving line of trust/privacy and it effect on promises is already having an effect on the promises of businesses that agree to use these third party platforms and their brands.

There are intended and unintended consequences to businesses and brands based on their association with service providers.

The quote at the beginning of this post, and the scenarios above prompt me to conclude the week with the question: Are we treating people as commodities?

If so, is it any wonder that there is no trust?



0 responses to “Treating People as Commodity?”

  1. Valeria, in my opinion, the short answer to your question is YES!
    It is sad that there is this mentality that you can box people and quantify their ability based on certain metrics. We are much more complicated than Google’s best algorithm as individuals.
    I see it so often when helping people with recruitment as I always have to explain to them that people are not an off the shelf product that I can just drop on one of their workstations. You have to find the balance between a function you want performed versus the type of person that will best be suited to deliver on that function. Too often, hiring managers get lost in wanting to be able to tick boxes in every aspect required on the job spec. Similarly people looking for this “ideal job” work from the same limiting beliefs.
    I certainly don’t believe you will be effective and have lasting relationships if you do not recognise the need to see the individual strengths people bring to the party.

  2. I a sense I believe it is an illusion. Now you can have thousands in your circles, tens of thousands following you and millions of friends and still be all alone…
    Obviously people aren’t commodities, but people aren’t online either so how can you tell. You see the text, you read the words, you may even look at the pictures, but can you really connect?
    It is not hard to reduce everything and everyone to simply being ends to means when you can’t get any closer to them than the computer screen.
    Mostly it has no consequences either. When someone steps on your toes they aren’t around to see or hear how you react. Odds are that they are of to better things before you even know what happened.
    Behaving in this virtual world of ours as it if was real is thus more of a rarity than it should be. Those who do succeed in doing so will however be the ones who end up profiting the most I think.

  3. It seems we’re bombarded with more and more information (from more and more people) every day. In the absence of strong filters, this pushes analysis paralysis, which drives us to commodity.
    I particularly like Jan’s suggestion of parallelism between our digital and analog selves. There is tremendous potential for those who do (IRL) what they say they will do (online).
    We are connected to far more people than we could ever hope to treat with the same level of attention we would expect for ourselves, but our individual visions and aspirations serve as the filters allowing us to tailor our promises to others.
    True success means more than just helping others achieve success – it means helping others achieve success through helping still others achieve success. What is the power of promising to help others make and keep their promises?

  4. I find it amazing that companies do actually send notes like that. It smells of both arrogance and frustration, and id certainly going to backfire on them big time. What do they expect? Oh well, I guess it takes all sorts……

  5. when nobody sees what you do, that’s when you end up getting closer to genuine self. There is all this pressure to have the photo opp online, to display vs. be, etc. that ends up distorting the sense of proportion… a long conversation

  6. Valeria,
    Thank you for including my post as an example. But more importantly, I am fascinated by the changes taking place in our industry as evidenced by that response you received. The entire field of avatars, clicks, retweets, and scores continues to dehumanize people, delivering the exact opposite results that most companies are seeking. I wonder when some people might understand that technologies might make up the online environment, but they are still driven by people.

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