Via The New Inquiry Rob Horning warns that attempting to express our identities has become a zero-sum game:
Consumerism is sustained by the ideology that freedom of choice is the only relevant freedom; it implies that society has mastered scarcity and that accumulating things is the primary universal human good, that which allows us to understand and relate to the motives of others.
Choosing among things, in a consumer society, is what allows us to feel autonomous (no one tells us how we must spend our money) and express, or even discover, our unique individuality — which is proposed as the purpose of life. If we can experience ourselves as original, our lives will not have been spent in vain. We will have brought something new to human history; we will have been meaningful. (This is opposed to older notions of being “true” to one’s station or to God’s plan.)
The quest for originality collides with the capitalist economic imperative of growth. Making more choices seems to mean a more attenuated, bigger, more successful self. Originality can be regarded as a question of claiming more things to link to ourselves and combining them in unlikely configurations.
As we articulate our identities within attention-depleting media, recognition increasingly becomes a zero-sum game; one’s recognized identity comes at the expense of another’s in that it steals attention away. The problem worsens as this recognition becomes not a mere matter of ontological security but economic viability, as digital labor (personal brand building, etc.) becomes a required prerequisite for other work, or the only kind of (precarious) work available. This leads to an accompanying ‘administration’ of one’s life that takes the form of an endless to-do list.