By Danielle Cantey
What if you were just an avatar in your own life and others had the power to dictate the way you live- from the food you eat and the clothes you wear, to who you date? We’re all somewhat familiar with the popular computer game SIMS that allows the gamer to make these very decisions about their computer generated characters’ lives, but according to an article on Wired.com, Mike Merrill has taken this concept from the cyber world into the real world. Merrill, a customer service rep at a Portland, Ore. software company, is a publicly traded person. His company KmikeyM is a virtual stock market that allows people to become shareholders in his life, and in return, shareholders receive a cut of Merrill’s earnings outside of his job. In essence, shareholders are investing in Merrill’s future success. While many startups allow people to invest in entrepreneurs, KmikeyM is different in that shareholders actually get to decide which projects Merrill pursues. Although this project began as a way for Merrill to achieve professional success, the project quickly expanded to including personal life decisions in an effort to gain more investors.
As a result of votes from his shareholders, Merrill has changed his diet, moved in with his girlfriend (shareholder #160) and changed his style of dress. Recent proposals on his site show that shareholders have approved a change to Merrill’s diet that would allow meat back into his diet in an effort to align his lifestyle choices with those his girlfriend. Merrill has also been allowed to expand his fashion horizons. Previously Merrill was limited to only wearing Brooks Brothers clothing, but as a result of a recent business venture with Nike, a proposal was drafted to allow the integration of Nike apparel into his wardrobe. Shareholders are still voting on a proposal that would involve hiring a Public Relations rep to deal with the increased press surrounding Merrill.
Merrill’s lifestyle is somewhat controversial. Many are understandably disturbed by the idea of strangers controlling their personal lives, and Merrill warns that this lifetstyle is only for a selected few. When asked by Drew Nelles of The Globe and Mail about the controversy associated with being a traded person, Merrill responded by saying: “People hate the idea of giving up control. Everyone wants to think that they are ultimately in control of their lives, and that’s an obvious fallacy. We are a product of our environment.” Leaving your life in someone else’s hands yet alone a thousand investors seems risky. For $13.50 investors can essentially control Merrill’s every move. Yet, that’s what makes KmikeyM so successful. Why live vicariously through a computer-generated avatar, when you can buy a share in publicly traded person Mike Merrill?