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In today's culture, brands become iconic ways of representing an entire set of metaphors. Through its corporate communications, a company like Nike will represent, or broadcast, an entire range of images which are then signified by that single Swoosh. And because we're looking for anchors in this relativistic haze that we were talking about before — because we're looking for symbols to represent what are now really immense thought structures, we grab onto the icons of Airwalk and Nike. That's why it's so satisfying — but it's also why it's so dangerous.

JB: Can an individual become a brand?

RUSHKOFF: John, you are a brand.

JB: It's interesting that AOL distributes millions of AOL floppy disks it's called "marketing"; and Amazon runs a multi-million dollar ad campaign it's called "branding.". And Steve Case and Jeff Bezos are proclaimed geniuses. But if creative individuals take responsibility for their own work and ideas and let the world know what they've done, it's called "self promotion." Can an individual ever enjoy the same authority and status in the culture that a brand attains?

RUSHKOFF: Do individuals really want to? Human beings, for the time being, anyway, exist in a different space than brands. I suppose those of us who are trying to establish a "name" for ourselves in an industry or in the media ­ like you or I have, to some extent, or Madonna has to a much greater extent ­ have franchises independent of our real-life identities. There's cross-over, to be sure, but it's probably healthy to realize these are separate things. But living as a human being and a brand in the same mediaspace is a dangerous game.

As far as a strategy for becoming a person-brand, I'd suggest steering clear of any particular institution or company because the minute you go to work for Microsoft or Oracle or NBC or any company at all, you're spending your energy on someone else's brand rather than your own. The only thing you have to do to be a brand is to function as an independent — and sign your work, taking both the credit and the blame for what you're doing. That, and make sure you've got a great sense of humor, because the inevitable attacks will feel like they're directed at you, personally.

A lot of people talk about the Internet as this great place to be anonymous. Why the hell do you want to be anonymous? One, if it's an idea that you had, then put your name on it, let people know it's yours. If it's worth saying, it's worth standing up for. I've never done an anonymous piece of e-mail or bbs posting — not because I want to self-promote, but because I don't want to get in the habit of being afraid to say what I believe. That's a dangerous precedent, especially if we fear that our society might become more repressive at some point in the future.

So signing your work as an artist would is the first step. Second, it's realizing that the image that other people have of you has nothing to do with who you really are. It took me a while to get used to that one. You know, that this thing out there called Douglas Rushkoff — the thing that you call Doug — the thing that The New York Times calls Doug. It really hurt me for a long time that people believed reports that I make $7500 an hour, that I'm selling out the counterculture, or I've singlehandedly killed the grunge or rave movements. It really bothered me until I realized that they're not relating to me or my work at all, they're relating to the Douglas Rushkoff brand, and how it was mishandled by me or misrepresented by some journalist. And I have no right to complain because that thing called Douglas is what pays my bills.