The Monetized Life

Nancy Friedman
7 min readJun 12, 2022

“It’s absurd to imagine someone trying very hard to monetize their desire to scuba dive once a week or write poetry or hang out with friends. People like to talk about their favorite sports teams or tech gadgets, but why do we have to be in such a hurry to turn that into a profit?”

Absurd? Maybe in 2005, when pioneering blogger and business consultant Seth Godin wrote that paragraph in a blog post defiantly titled “Monetize This.” In 2022, Godin’s plaint seems quaint. Not only it is easy to imagine monetizing scuba diving or hanging out with friends, it can seem unthinkable not to. In 2022, everything can be, and often is, monetized — transformed, as if by alchemy, into cash, or bits, or bitcoin. Motherhood. Pets. Eating. Dieting. Opening boxes. This Medium story, although that’s more an aspiration than a monetization success story. (Last month I earned 19 cents for all 38 of my published stories: half a cent per story.) Even poetry, incredible as it seems. “If it exists, you can monetize it,” promises a site called, unimaginatively, Monetize This.

How did monetize become such a powerful mantra? When did monetization become a goal and a grail? And what has it done to our relationship to work, to money, to value?

It’s all about the Thomases

I remember the first time I heard the word monetize. It was January 2000, and I, a freelance writer, was in a meeting with a designer and our client, planning the client’s 1999 annual report. (This was back when annual reports were printed on fancy paper and had high-concept themes, and writers like me could make a decent living filling their pages.) The client, a man who never smiled and who peppered his pronouncements with unironic jargon, was talking about the goal of our project. “We’re going to need to monetize,” he said. He may have actually said “We’re going to need to monetize eyeballs,” because “eyeballs” was something people said in early 2000, when the internet was in its adolescence. The designer and I shared a look. Monetize? What kind of weird made-up word was this?

It wasn’t actually made up, at least not there and then, although it had recently acquired a new meaning without our being aware of it. By 2000, Monetize had been around for nearly a century and a half. For most of that time it was used mainly by economists to mean “to put into circulation as currency” or “to convert an asset or…

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Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist, ex-journalist. @fritinancy on Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, and elsewhere.