In the following I try to argue that our perception of what is and can be perceived as performance changed and that the logic of measuring, judging, evaluating – be it a genuinely subjective “I like” or a formalized test score – penetrated regions of life that were formerly not subject to these processes. There seems to be an imperative to “perform” in ever more aspects of life.
Thinking about it, it feels like I’m constantly in a mode of evaluating, judging, pressing like buttons and writing reviews about my latest Airbnb-host. The internet and especially the Social Web transformed the ways in which we can communicate and offer widespread opportunities for participation and feedback. Everybody classifies, compares and ranks all the time – but nowadays this is done publicly. The equal access to the internet means that there are no formal authorities necessary (like the restaurant critic) and that we have all become ‘experts’ in judging other peoples photos, food and services. One could call this democratization, or the intelligence of the crowd but what is enhanced is not only the ‘small man’s voice’ but also a market-logic of comparison and competition.
While one is maybe pretty comfortable with judging others, the same process goes – unfortunately – the other direction as well. In our role as the person who is being judged we are, as never before, exposed to the eyes and feedback of others. This leads to a rather radical question: Does the expectation and prospect that others will judge us change our actions? Are formerly unnoticed and private aspects of everyday life being transformed into performances? Does the sheer awareness that one is or could be judged create different – optimized – behavior? How does it affect me when I know that the host I meet in my holiday apartment will write about me, my personality and how clean I left the place? Will I be tempted to adapt and optimize my behavior, performing the “good guest”? Judgements of complete strangers stick on our digital self and are almost impossible to shake. Or, in a formerly most personal, private and informal respect: how do I optimize and regulate my appearance, look and presentation on platforms such as Tinder? As the selection is (in this case) drastic – one swipe with the hand decides over top or flop – it is only logical that I will try and get the ‘best’ out of my self-representation.
Aspects, that ran under the term ‘personality’ suddenly became something that is to be managed and improved: I advertise and sell my product (my photos on Facebook, my appearance with my Airbnb-host and the recipes I shared on allrecipes.com) – not necessarily for money but for attention, clicks, likes and hits. The logic of performing – acting according to some anticipated feedback – is not reduced to the working sphere but becomes potentially universalized. What then happens is the reversal of the two sides of performance and measurement: Normally one would assume that first there is performance and after comes the measurement. But here we can see the creation of performance or the ‘performanization’ through the widespread public instances of assessment and rating.