Valerio Loi is a photographer who currently works between London and his birthplace of Cagliari, Italy. In a series of images called Web Popularity Products, Loi envisions a future where online popularity has been turned into physical commodities, just like food at the supermarket. With bright colors and labels stamped with the familiar icons of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Badoo, and LinkedIn, Loi’s “products” sit inconspicuously on store shelves amongst mayonnaise and cans of corned beef. While things like Instagram followers can already be purchased online (although it is often a ridiculed practice), the increasing value of one’s online presence could one day mean we consume simulated “popularity” alongside our processed and over-packaged foods.
“The more social networks are born, the more purchasable services to increase users’ popularity are created,” Loi observes on his project description. “Alongside our physical life based on face to face interaction, nowadays many of us consider . . . online image and networking [to be really important]” (Source). In some ways, Loi’s work displays an anxiety over the current trend of social media that seems to undermine genuine human connections; his other personal project, titled Human Feelings as Drugs, similarly explores this fear of the commodification and loss of our deepest experiences and emotions. However, Loi photographs his Web Popularity Products in a relatively innocent light, allowing the viewers to decide for themselves whether social media will lead to practical transformations of human identities, or the spiritual bankruptcy thereof.