A man recently auctioned off his life on eBay. The man lives in Australia. His life — which included his house, his job, all his stuff, and his friends — sold for $383,723. He did it because he had gone through a bad breakup with his wife and wanted a “fresh start.” He is not the first person to have done this. Sell something conceptual online, that is. But he is refreshingly unintellectual about it. It wasn’t an art piece, he was just a bummed out guy who sold all his stuff. “I thought it might have gone a bit higher at the end,” he noted. “But it’s a sale.”
Why aren’t more people able to turn their misery into a profit so gracefully? One dissenting response to the article reads: “Dude doesn’t want his life, so why would you?” Well, someone bought it, and for near $400 grand — that’s not bad for a guy in the throes of despair who might well have ended up at the bottom of a lake. It’s all about recognizing an advantage and taking it.
What he did was clever, even if he lost a little money. There are countless opportunities for such inventiveness online. People have shown themselves willing to buy almost anything. The internet has opened up a whole realm for selling abstractions. There was the classic case of an alleged “time machine” — one that suspiciously resembled a dressed-up toaster — that auctioned off for a lot of money. The winning bidder, one Golden Palace Online Casino, had also bid on other favorites like the notorious Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich, the ghost in the bottle, and lunch with Rupert Murdock. Another man sold his “blackness,” another his “personal hate.” Dating websites are devoted to selling the idea of love or companionship — register once and you could find the one.
There are two overarching trends: one absolute — represented by web clicks, sales, impressions, and leads — and one more vague, of novelties, gimmicks, and ideas. It’s become fairly straightforward to track and assess online sales and advertising, sometimes less clear to understand what’s being sold. Perhaps as the mechanism of marketing grows more concrete, the products themselves will become more and more ethereal.
While in many ways, the internet is the ultimate extension of the theory of free trade — where you buy what you need for the cheapest price from the most specialized maker — it also pushes the idea of free, democratic services with broad ends. Myspace, Youtube, Flickr — these provide outlets to socialize, be entertained, gather information, be expressive, whatever — for no cost. In the case of the Australian man, he used eBay, a site traditionally devoted to commerce, as a forum for personal catharsis. He didn’t see a therapist, he didn’t go crazy and burn his house down — he made an astute and economical choice.
Like several Bosnian criminals who dressed up as policemen and robbed a post office of $1.1 million Euros while the building’s security guards were watching the Euro 2008 finals. Without condoning thievery, you have to tip your hat to them — it was a creative solution.
(photo courtesy of Newsweek)