Room for plenty: does business have a heart?

Last week I saw something random on Twitter. If you know me, you understand that deciding whether or not I should follow more accounts is among the smart actions I could never take on my own, and that means I’ll keep my doubt in a safe space inside my polluted mind, hiding in this tiny guardian shell where the clean thoughts are, to think about the importance of actually reading some of the stuff you scroll through. The other neurons and chemicals busy at work: the edge of social synesthesia, a texture map of wonder, a constantly updating categorical skill distinguishing what’s conceivable to the masses from what’s erudite vernacular masturbation, the narrative outline of a universal race to development clashing with the unknown techniques for collecting fruit from a plantation, the needs and luxuries, the passive memories and the aggressive erasure of history, all located in sections with peers, sometimes connecting, often ignoring the longer paths to critical analysis, but breathing and operating inside a body. Providing me my functions. Allowing me to feel. Unless feelings are blocked. I don’t know exactly how I took it, but what I saw was a picture and a small text. An unusual picture and a provoking text, or the contrary. Excuse my French: it was a bourgeois critique, veiled as political statement. When you clicked it, what you saw was a supermarket aisle packed with a monotonous repetition of the same product and a slightly different one in equally great number – maybe tomato sauce and tomato extract. Not just two dozens, but hundreds of the same item. Personally, just like the majority of people, I had never seen anything like that. So this guy wrote: “here’s what communism looks like, kids. Are you sure that’s what you want?” I guess I giggled, but I forgot to look at the discussion thread.

Nobody really appretiates being treated like they’re just another disposable item. To be used up and thrown away. But we’re talking about tomatoes, and Twitter just couldn’t handle the pressure to make this trend for an hour and then never mention it again. So let’s try. First, if they were canned, I’m pretty sure the way to go would be to send the trash to recycling, but of course you’d think maybe buying them fresh at the fair would be a better alternative, the standard one, because we’re in the city and we don’t have a backyard for these things; we go shopping and try to remember we need natural. But here’s other areas, sometimes overlapping: how much is it? How are we paying? How long does it take? Did we say good morning to the cashier? Who bought the same stuff? Do I always shop at this place? How am I getting this home? And I could go on and on, as the son of a former supermarket manager, but let’s just say what really matters is what they were selling and the options I had. Each of these could be metaphors, but I’m not smart enough to prove every point. Of course, I’m sure you’re not buying tomatoes with someone else’s debit card, but if you are, one could wonder what the items in the list are. If it’s the month list, then you probably have your own place. So don’t bother thinking about it if you’re a kid, point one. If you live by yourself, you make more plans; if you live with children, on top of another set of plans, you choose what you need the most and bring it home whenever it’s possible, but sometimes you just don’t want to. Point two. The part about the greeting though, well, it depends on how compassionate you are as a person, it depends on your mood, and maybe how many people there are on the line. But have you tried shopping online? Point three, which overlaps.

The Twitter thread didn’t take any of this into account. After all, Twitter is for people who have nothing else to do, am I right? Not so fast. Democracy isn’t dying, you know. So that means on the other side we’ll have people rephrasing the question just because they’re nice enough to do the work that nobody would actually need if we could just have a common understanding: can global conversation including all cultures, ages, social backgrounds and lived experiences be rendered irrelevant just because you don’t like baby blue? Hold that thought. Commercial break. Tomatoes, redder than the red, red sun! Tomatoes, fresh and juicy like my cheeks for Lucy! Tomato, the fruit that’s a vegetable, it’s good and it’s special! Tomato in the salad, Italian and the cherry, tomato sliced with cheese but also bloody Mary! We’re having lunch. Sit down, grab a fork and knife. Someone’s hand is in the air for more than half a second, that means you should pass the olive oil. If you can do a simple favor, you can also make compliments like “this chicken really lends the taste to the sweet potatoes”, or “can’t remember the last time I had pineapple juice, first time I try it with mint”. You eat. You drink. You get up. Back in the day, someone would point out, we used to say “excuse me”. In some households, you’ll get a “put it in the fridge, will you?” But that varies. Focusing on my experience, thankful for the food but still lazy to help out: when you’re done, dishes to wash. If there’s no detergent, too bad because we don’t have those machines around here. Our hands really smell like garlic. Time for coffee, then a quick nap. Phone first, cause that’s everyone now. Finally. Okay, we’re back. Answering the question, Twitter isn’t for people who have nothing else to do. Sometimes, it’s for the busiest people in the world. And if it’s a global conversation, obviously it’s not irrelevant. But this post isn’t about Twitter. It’s about the type of conversation that can be global. The only problem here is that probably took 50 seconds and not a good 3 minutes, which is way less than we’re going to be exposed to advertisement anywhere on the web. But since not all of us are online all the time, because not all of us sell fruit at the fair, we’re going to get uncomfortable with the narrative here. And let’s just try to keep in mind, regardless of how much we may want to resist this idea, that everything is commerce, like it or not. I mean, if you have money – and food.

Now let me stop with the bad metaphors. I asked a question: have you tried shopping online? So here I’m gonna be using the ingenuity my mom gave me and paraphrase for some mischievous motive: what’s the Digital Single Market? The rude description would be that it covers the fields of, well, digital marketing, e-commerce and telecommunications (which demands careful examination). Risking a bad pun, it’s not for people; but apparently, that needs to be clarified. So here’s an example: you’re 15 years old, and your high school teacher is trying to be funny saying “ok, class: how many of you write online, maybe on your bio, maybe on your posts, using a hashtag or not, saying that you’re single? How many single pringles over here? hehe”. Nobody wants to have that conversation. Even with parents, that’s extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s actually gross. Our habits online, our perception, our taste, our posts, everything we delete, all the things we think about posting but we don’t, all our friends, all the strangers who made a contact, all the profiles we clicked, all our likes, all the comments, the tick boxes, the settings, the screen savers: that’s all personal. But now there’s a company called Tomato, a global internet provider. The year is 1984, and they’re talking about trade war. Wear a mask.

It’s hard to say the context doesn’t matter — have you heard the news, little fellows? — but what’s your idea of a “single market”? Single can mean exclusive. I’m a teacher, man. Not a programmer. But again, we’re not talking about a tent that sells potions, like Zelda – and the grown ups have just left the conversation. Somehow, we’ve got to a point where asking what marketing is makes for a deeper question than asking what the meaning of life is, and who are we to blame? Sure, if there’s money online, we need regulation; but who does it target? Who does it benefit? Who does it exclude? And let’s try not to get too existential here (cough, questioning business models) and list genuine points of doubt: are we talking about crypto rules, company policies, terms of use, general practices, rights and duties, demand, creativity incentives, product specifications, lifestyle, fairness, moral values? Are we talking about color schemes, source, supporting research, banned words? Or should we be getting serious about the fact that we’re selling our relationship status, and everything that comes with it – literally?

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