YOU have heard of social-networking addicts: people who crave
validation through "likes" and "retweets", whose success is counted
in online friends and followers. But Mike Merrill has taken this a
stage further: he is a "publicly traded person". If you visit
kmikeym.com, you can buy shares in him, and that gives you the
right to vote on the big issues of his life.
Speaking on The Digital Human (Radio 4, Monday of last
week), Mr Merrill, who is 37, talked matter-of-factly about how he
decided to choose a girlfriend based on the votes of 400-or-so
online shareholders. The biggest shock here is that somebody who
embarked on such a narcissistic project should have a girlfriend at
all. As it emerged, the girlfriend was a shareholder, and engaged
in some insider dealing in order to affect the result.
Mr Merrill's story came at the end of a programme that discussed
the way we market ourselves, and engage with markets, online. The
internet appears to bring an intimacy to the marketplace: you can
make businesses your Facebook friends, and feel a sense of
community with thousands of other admirers of a given product. Or
you can, like Mr Merrill, become a "solopreneur" and use the
internet to market yourself.
Other than the story of Mr Merrill, it was hard to work out what
The Digital Human was offering that might be new to its
audience. For those already enmeshed in this world of solopreneurs
and associated jargon, it would be greeted with indifferent
recognition. And for the rest - a general sense of bewilderment and
alienation. When the presenter, Aleks Krotoski, announced at the
start that the world was now one big online Tupperware party, one
could not help thinking: so that is what all the noise is next
door; they might have invited me.
When the world wishes to express outrage nowadays, it reaches
for a hashtag: #BringBack OurGirls has clocked up millions of
tweets in support of the girls abducted in Nigeria last month. But,
as we heard on The Documentary (World Service, Wednesday
of last week), all of this merely underscores the lethargic
reaction by those authorities capable of actually doing something
Most striking was an interview with one of the villagers from
Chibok, who recounted how, in the absence of police, he pursued the
abductors with a bow and arrow. Nor is it a great comfort to hear,
as one commentator suggested, that the international outcry might
jolt Nigerian politics from its general complacency.
Complacency, mixed in with something a good deal more sinister,
was at work when, in 1974, six Icelanders were convicted of killing
two men, even though their bodies were never discovered. The story
of one of the worst modern miscarriages of justice in Europe was
told in a gripping Crossing Continents (Radio 4, Thursday
of last week).
We were introduced to Erla Bolladóttir, one of the six whose
confessions emerged only after extensive questioning, and long
periods in solitary confinement. Such was the psychological effect
of this alleged brainwashing that, even now, some of the suspects
say that they do not know whether they committed the murders.