Facebook 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