Human branding: Google, self-harm and a creative reboot

Before Google, if a relationship turned sour or you had a bad experience, of course it still hurt. There would be reminders in the form of photographs, letters or memories, but these would gradually fade. You could put the former away and the latter down to experience. Human beings are programmed to forget pain. Old wounds heal into scars which eventually fade. And in those days we were allowed to move on.

Before Google, of course people would talk, but if you wanted to, you could shut out much of the noise; you might never find out who said what or exactly what they said. Unless it was a historical event, a massive story or both, yesterday’s papers were yesterday’s news. Now you can monitor every mention and every photograph – good and bad – and you can capture and retain it indefinitely. So can everyone else. In business, this is valuable for product and brand development. Big data analysis can identify target markets and map market penetration and customer behaviour. But what is information overload doing to us as people?

These are the days of personal branding. Kind words become marketing material – my throwaway compliment on twitter displayed on a website as a professional recommendation – and SEO hides negative feedback. Social media trackers feed paranoia and sell the desire to create an idealised online presence. Everyone is checking everyone: businesses are looking at Facebook; customers are checking out businesses’ ethical and other credentials. We can buy into – and purchase – perceived popularity in the form of online followers and friends.

We are encouraged to strive for a notion of perfection: but as people, not products, the fact that we are not perfect is surely what makes us unique and interesting.  Tattoos and piercings are ways of making ourselves a bit different. But where does personal branding end and human branding, a painful and permanent modification, begin?

I have been working the paranoia. As a teenager, I was terrified of exams. I never felt I’d prepared as much as others had – however hard I worked, it never seemed to be enough – and as the exams approached I would torture myself with a series of disastrous scenarios. I would make myself physically ill. But the tension brought focus. My brain clicked into survival mode when I revised and on the day I remembered everything. The psychological self-harm turned into academic success.

Ernest Hemingway wrote “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Now Google is my vehicle for online self-harm. When I need to step outside my comfort zone – as all writers do at times – I know exactly where to find a virtual scalpel to reopen wounds – and force a creative reboot.

I wrote the storyline for a short movie. One scene depicts how despair can drive the mind to seek solace in irrational ways. Writing it down was cathartic; watching it acted out was quietly traumatic for me – and compelling and slightly disturbing for everyone else. There was a long silence in the room after the director said, “Cut”. Everyone breathed out. Apparently, the scene sent a shiver down their spines. And yes, I found that tension online.


Daft Punk: Human after all



%d bloggers like this: