5 votes

Mass authentic

1 comment

  1. zoec
    This was a long piece by Rob Horning, published in the New Inquiry on 20 Dec 2016. Normally I'd quote a few paragraphs as "soundbites" that summarizes an article using the author's own words. But...

    This was a long piece by Rob Horning, published in the New Inquiry on 20 Dec 2016.

    Normally I'd quote a few paragraphs as "soundbites" that summarizes an article using the author's own words. But this one is a bit too long, and the soundbite-density too high, therefore I'd try to make it on my own, interspersed with the original.

    There's the premise: that capitalism, consumerism, especially the neoliberal kind, is the real condition of the society we're in. It's like the air we can't fail to breathe yet can and often fail to notice. Our internal structures are inevitably shaped to some extent by this social condition.

    However, the insidious thing, is that consumerism can persuade us that it isn't so, isn't saturating and all-permeating, but some knee-high flood that we can get out of -- and reach the other shore of "the authentic". It's like the Matrix with an additional feature: simulated Matrix-revealing and Matrix-escape experience.

    The definition of, means to, and the very desire to achieve "the authentic" are all made from the consumerist society and serve as its ideology in the service of its perpetuation. We're trained to buy deeper into the ideology, as we buy our way to our "true selves".

    In typical capitalist manner, the "authentication" process reallocates costs and risks.

    Authenticity is a curse we assign to other people that traps them in their identity while we are free to shop around for ours, claiming tokens of theirs as our own.

    We aspire to authenticity because it promises recognition without any of the associated limitations or responsibilities.

    Of particular interest for us here are the parts concerning critiques of the social media

    That is, the last half of the long essay.

    We often say that in the social media we're not customers, we're the product. Horning stresses that we're also the consumers of this product, "like a hot dog putting ketchup on itself."

    With this self-commodification, our identities becomes circulating by definition, and they (qua commodities) exist only as long as they circulate.

    Only as a product can we recognize ourselves as “genuinely” real, given the amount of attention and effort collectively directed at enchanting and foregrounding products within a consumer-capitalist culture. We are ideologically trained, repeatedly, every day, to love consumer goods; naturally we would want to become a consumer good ourselves, to appear deserving of love — from ourselves as well as from other people (who, on social media, offer quantifiable tokens of that deserved love in the form of likes and so on).

    [...] On social media, we can imagine someone buying into the idea of us, and that helps us buy into ourselves. But inevitably our desire for ourselves needs to be renewed, and we will need to be repackaged.

    And the repackaging machinery is ubiquitous, machine-learning-based surveillance.

    The way our data is processed and represented to us is usually seen as a form of hypertargeting that treats us as a demographic of one. But it is more indicative of the ways in which we are standardized in order to be processed through the same procedures, in order to be included. The processing is a way of belonging. It addresses the same anxieties that authenticity address, how to be a person in general and a particular person at the same time.

    [As we purchase after our "authentic" selves, i.e. the ones that the network wants us to be based on our data, which are typically identities that can circulate more frictionlessly, more data-producing,] [a]uthenticity ceases to be a performed absence of performance and becomes a matter of efficient performance and broad circulation. This feeds a loop that reinforces the centrality of networks, the requirement of being constantly connected.

    His closing remark seems to resonate with those who deleted their Facebook/Twitter/Reddit/etc. accounts.

    3 votes