The Age Of Perpetual Self-Branding

imageFacebook wants to be the place where you feel most yourself, with the most control over how you are regarded. It inextricably intertwines marketing with selfhood, so that having a self becomes an inherently commercial operation.

Writing for n+1, Rob Horning concocts a frightening, fantastic, and thought-provoking essay on how we live today, connecting the reign of “fast fashion” companies such as Forever 21, social media such as Facebook, and 21st century capitalism’s demand that workers market and reinvent themselves endlessly:

I’ve always thought that Forever 21 was a brilliant name for a fast-fashion retailer. These two words succinctly encapsulate consumerism’s mission statement: to evoke the dream of perpetual youth through constant shopping. Yet it also conjures the suffocating shabbiness of that fantasy, the permanent desperation involved in trying to achieve fashion’s impossible ideals.

Despite apparently democratizing style and empowering consumers, fast fashion in some ways constitutes a dream sector for those eager to condemn contemporary capitalism, as the companies almost systematically heighten some of its current contradictions: the exhaustion of innovative possibilities, the limits of the legal system in guaranteeing property rights, the increasing immiseration of the world workforce.

Just as fast fashion seeks to pressure shoppers with the urgency of now or never, social media hope to convince us that we always have something new and important to say—as long as we say it right away. And they are designed to make us feel anxious and left out if we don’t say it, as their interfaces favor the users who update frequently and tend to make less engaged users disappear.

How did this happen? By seeming to mitigate the problems that neoliberalism creates by shifting economic risk onto workers, social media has been able to colonize the collective consciousness. Facebook, fast fashion, and the like provide new mechanisms of solace, quantifying our connections and influence (and thereby making them more economically useful to us) while enhancing the compensations of consumerism by making it seem more productive, more self-revelatory. Though we may be only one of a thousand friends in everyone else’s networks, that never seems especially important when we’re in the midst of posting new pictures.

In turning to social media for comfort, we’ve become happily dependent on digital devices, as we have come to rely on the accelerated rate of communication and exchange they facilitate. They offer us chances to articulate, evaluate, and augment who we are while archiving our identity-making gestures as a collection we can later fawn over and curate. The archiving makes the self seem richer and more substantial even as it makes it more tenuous. Our identity can never be so strong as to render any particular gesture negligible; it is cumulative at the same time that it is totally discontinuous. This has the effect of allowing everything we do to seem either significant or irrelevant, depending on which view suits our needs. The online repository has gradually become the privileged site of the self, the authorized version that redeems the frustration and desperation incipient with the provisionality of work life, that corrects the errors and discourtesies we commit in our confrontations with the physical world.

Read the full essay at n+1

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  • Longwinded

    It amazes me how much real power kids of about 13-17 years old really have over the rest of our society.  Because they are the ones constantly being advertised to, what they choose to buy or the trends they choose to latch onto (which is everything that is pumped out and labelled “new”) determine what Cosmopolitan magazine will be telling women about what is cool and what is not, what men to think are hot and which are not, and on and on.  Anybody ever check trending topics on Twitter and want to vomit?  I do.  I can’t even look anymore, but also I’m a little more rebellious against the idea all together since I know it’s just making marketing easier for corporations who are already cutting everything short to turn over more profit.  Same goes for this new thing of releasing movies in two parts… wtf, really.  Are they trying to give us a longer, more enjoyable movie experience?  No.  They aren’t making as much money and want to ensure 2X the revenue on a single movie.  It’s simple business and who is buying it?  Teenagers.  Mainstream music, social networking, etc which all harbor a political bias (we don’t market to gay people or even about gay people, for example… I could go on about the things we just choose to ignore exist) are sold to individuals who aren’t even cognitively developed enough yet to know the first thing about politics, let alone know that they hold some type of power… Oh, but the gov’t knows it and the corporation knows it… high school history books are boring and vague for a reason.  Still pumping propaganda into the minds of vulnerable people (read: anybody who wants to trust the institution) to only flip the switch when we need that brainwashing to work in the favor of our slave masters… just like the definition of masculinity in our culture: to be heroes in the form soldiers, firemen, policemen (all govt jobs, conveniently), to instill this type of mindset in a young boy who just wants to be what society expects of him, then all it takes to call upon that brainwashing is a false flag attack and a call to arms all the while stroking everyone’s ego because this was their wet dream from the beginning, to be a hero and kill some people.  Well, you got it.  Once you know something, you can never not know again, is all I’m saying and either things better change as a result of learning all these lessons the hard way (i.e. be true to yourself) or we will go down even faster and harder next time and there will be a next time.  I got way off course there, but the moral of the story is buying clothes from Forever 21 just keeps our fascist idealism alive longer and gender roles are seeds embedded at an early age to be exploited by your govt at any given point in time.  Please stop buying it.  

  • Longwinded

    It amazes me how much real power kids of about 13-17 years old really have over the rest of our society.  Because they are the ones constantly being advertised to, what they choose to buy or the trends they choose to latch onto (which is everything that is pumped out and labelled “new”) determine what Cosmopolitan magazine will be telling women about what is cool and what is not, what men to think are hot and which are not, and on and on.  Anybody ever check trending topics on Twitter and want to vomit?  I do.  I can’t even look anymore, but also I’m a little more rebellious against the idea all together since I know it’s just making marketing easier for corporations who are already cutting everything short to turn over more profit.  Same goes for this new thing of releasing movies in two parts… wtf, really.  Are they trying to give us a longer, more enjoyable movie experience?  No.  They aren’t making as much money and want to ensure 2X the revenue on a single movie.  It’s simple business and who is buying it?  Teenagers.  Mainstream music, social networking, etc which all harbor a political bias (we don’t market to gay people or even about gay people, for example… I could go on about the things we just choose to ignore exist) are sold to individuals who aren’t even cognitively developed enough yet to know the first thing about politics, let alone know that they hold some type of power… Oh, but the gov’t knows it and the corporation knows it… high school history books are boring and vague for a reason.  Still pumping propaganda into the minds of vulnerable people (read: anybody who wants to trust the institution) to only flip the switch when we need that brainwashing to work in the favor of our slave masters… just like the definition of masculinity in our culture: to be heroes in the form soldiers, firemen, policemen (all govt jobs, conveniently), to instill this type of mindset in a young boy who just wants to be what society expects of him, then all it takes to call upon that brainwashing is a false flag attack and a call to arms all the while stroking everyone’s ego because this was their wet dream from the beginning, to be a hero and kill some people.  Well, you got it.  Once you know something, you can never not know again, is all I’m saying and either things better change as a result of learning all these lessons the hard way (i.e. be true to yourself) or we will go down even faster and harder next time and there will be a next time.  I got way off course there, but the moral of the story is buying clothes from Forever 21 just keeps our fascist idealism alive longer and gender roles are seeds embedded at an early age to be exploited by your govt at any given point in time.  Please stop buying it.  

    • Alarm

      Agree on all of that…minus the comment about being true to yourself.  I think you give to much credit to the self.  Which in this case are by necessity already placing acceptance over intelligence.  I think humans are inherently selfish and over flowing with hubris.  We are capable of some good.  But our bad out weighs the effects of our good on a scale that is geometric.  Like you said, once you get this information out to people they are stuck with it.  Lets pull down the curtain one mind at a time.

      • Longwinded

        I agree absolutely that humans are inherently selfish, but it’s still really is none of my business whether someone is “bad” or “good” and I was not placed here to judge that.  I try to keep my own God-complex at bay.  Just because someone is selfish and may do horrible things trying to please themselves does not make them a “bad” person.  It makes them a person without discipline and without consequence, acting out of impulsive, egotistical, blind human instinct instead of rational, logical thinking that may benefit more than just one person.  How in all that ranting up above did you manage to pick out that one statement?  lol  Being true to one’s self isn’t necessarily giving the self too much credit.  Actually, it is the swallowing of some pretty big chunks of truth about one’s self which can be pretty ego-deflating and is much more difficult because it is a risk, especially when being true to yourself does not match what has been accepted in society as the “right” thing to do (i.e. going to kill a bunch of ppl after 9/11 because then murder is justified).  And I understand the point you’re trying to make about it seeming like the majority of the world is bad and a small percentage is good, and would have to agree that sometimes it does seem that way, but nothing is going to get done if we can’t accept “it is what it is” so we can move on, rather than waste time trying to figure out who exactly we need to blame and how they need to be punished.  I hope that made sense.  

  • Alarm

    Agree on all of that…minus the comment about being true to yourself.  I think you give to much credit to the self.  Which in this case are by necessity already placing acceptance over intelligence.  I think humans are inherently selfish and over flowing with hubris.  We are capable of some good.  But our bad out weighs the effects of our good on a scale that is geometric.  Like you said, once you get this information out to people they are stuck with it.  Lets pull down the curtain one mind at a time.

  • Anonymous

    I still shake my head in confusion when I log in to facebook from time to time, the reason being to find out if anybody has woken up. I scan through the status updates in hopes of someone posting something of value, but to my dismay, nothing. I don’t hate facebook. Like anything else, it’s a medium. It can be used anyway you want to use it. But this constant social bragging and developing an identity, molding it into the perfect version of yourself, blah blah blah…it’s all so dumb.

  • cosmicserpent

    I still shake my head in confusion when I log in to facebook from time to time, the reason being to find out if anybody has woken up. I scan through the status updates in hopes of someone posting something of value, but to my dismay, nothing. I don’t hate facebook. Like anything else, it’s a medium. It can be used anyway you want to use it. But this constant social bragging and developing an identity, molding it into the perfect version of yourself, blah blah blah…it’s all so dumb.

    • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

      I know what you’re talking about all too well…

    • Micho_rizo

      As pitiful as it is, I actually get somewhat annoyed because I try to post meaningful, valuable things on my updates, and I rarely get a “like” or a comment. But others say things like, “Going to the gym to get my swole on” or “Gonna eat some tacos” and 50 people like the status and 25 more comment on it.

      I guess I just need to grow up and not care about stupid shit so much….

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    I know what you’re talking about all too well…

  • Nunya

    I don’t text, I don’t blog, and I’ve never used any social networking site.

    I do post pointless things like this on various forums though.

  • Nunya

    I don’t text, I don’t blog, and I’ve never used any social networking site.

    I do post pointless things like this on various forums though.

  • Longwinded

    I agree absolutely that humans are inherently selfish, but it’s still really is none of my business whether someone is “bad” or “good” and I was not placed here to judge that.  I try to keep my own God-complex at bay.  Just because someone is selfish and may do horrible things trying to please themselves does not make them a “bad” person.  It makes them a person without discipline and without consequence, acting out of impulsive, egotistical, blind human instinct instead of rational, logical thinking that may benefit more than just one person.  How in all that ranting up above did you manage to pick out that one statement?  lol  Being true to one’s self isn’t necessarily giving the self too much credit.  Actually, it is the swallowing of some pretty big chunks of truth about one’s self which can be pretty ego-deflating and is much more difficult because it is a risk, especially when being true to yourself does not match what has been accepted in society as the “right” thing to do (i.e. going to kill a bunch of ppl after 9/11 because then murder is justified).  And I understand the point you’re trying to make about it seeming like the majority of the world is bad and a small percentage is good, and would have to agree that sometimes it does seem that way, but nothing is going to get done if we can’t accept “it is what it is” so we can move on, rather than waste time trying to figure out who exactly we need to blame and how they need to be punished.  I hope that made sense.  

  • Anon

    reminds me of a talk neo had when morpheus explained how people had become duracell batteries but in this case mechanical executives programmed with nothing but greed has turned people into mindless consumers making them like atm machines ready to be exploited

  • Anon

    reminds me of a talk neo had when morpheus explained how people had become duracell batteries but in this case mechanical executives programmed with nothing but greed has turned people into mindless consumers making them like atm machines ready to be exploited

  • Micho_rizo

    As pitiful as it is, I actually get somewhat annoyed because I try to post meaningful, valuable things on my updates, and I rarely get a “like” or a comment. But others say things like, “Going to the gym to get my swole on” or “Gonna eat some tacos” and 50 people like the status and 25 more comment on it.

    I guess I just need to grow up and not care about stupid shit so much….

  • The Weary

    I think I want to kill myself. This is pointless. This species held in thrall by mindless greed driven ideologies and self important abusive religions is killing everything. The oceans are acidifying, the climate is going into complete disarray, what little remains of the wild is being bought, fenced off and bulldozed. All pretenses of justice, rationality, morality in any real sense, honor, and any kind of decency however one may define it, are simply being tossed away. All for the positive reinforcement of destructive, oppressive, and controlling behaviors by the food pellets that are the money and profit of the modern capitalist industrialist mercantile system. All you who hold industrialism, capitalism, civilization, and domestication dear to your hearts, you deserve to have war waged against you, by every thing that lives and breaths, runs or flies, swims or slithers. By the very planet itself. By everyone that craves true freedom, not what we have been told that freedom is. I hope that a reckoning is coming, that someday, all those that value control and domination, destruction and power, artificial wealth and covert influence, that someday you will be hung from lamp posts, that the righteous fury of the remaining sane people will rain down on you like a thousand storms. 
    But that day will never come. And our idiot species will continue digging its own grave, shedding all that redeems us in the name of power and profit, until the dirt piled around the edge of the hole caves in on top of us. And the world forgets that we ever walked upon its surface, forgets the incomprehensible violence, the innumerable genocides, the vast destruction of the wilds, the enslavement of our neighbors both human and non human, forgets the insults and degradation, the affronts and the injuries, the vendettas and the vengeance of the many, and the love, the respect, the honor, the kindness, the true justice, of the few.

  • Anarchy Pony

    I think I want to kill myself. This is pointless. This species held in thrall by mindless greed driven ideologies and self important abusive religions is killing everything. The oceans are acidifying, the climate is going into complete disarray, what little remains of the wild is being bought, fenced off and bulldozed. All pretenses of justice, rationality, morality in any real sense, honor, and any kind of decency however one may define it, are simply being tossed away. All for the positive reinforcement of destructive, oppressive, and controlling behaviors by the food pellets that are the money and profit of the modern capitalist industrialist mercantile system. All you who hold industrialism, capitalism, civilization, and domestication dear to your hearts, you deserve to have war waged against you, by every thing that lives and breaths, runs or flies, swims or slithers. By the very planet itself. By everyone that craves true freedom, not what we have been told that freedom is. I hope that a reckoning is coming, that someday, all those that value control and domination, destruction and power, artificial wealth and covert influence, that someday you will be hung from lamp posts, that the righteous fury of the remaining sane people will rain down on you like a thousand storms. 
    But that day will never come. And our idiot species will continue digging its own grave, shedding all that redeems us in the name of power and profit, until the dirt piled around the edge of the hole caves in on top of us. And the world forgets that we ever walked upon its surface, forgets the incomprehensible violence, the innumerable genocides, the vast destruction of the wilds, the enslavement of our neighbors both human and non human, forgets the insults and degradation, the affronts and the injuries, the vendettas and the vengeance of the many, and the love, the respect, the honor, the kindness, the true justice, of the few.

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