Instigated by today’s platform capitalism and the attention economy, identity-building has become a more mediated process, shifting the focus from individual identities to a collective, socially constructed, marketable self. Within this frame, the notion of “performance” seems to be taking center stage. Not only identity evaluation mechanisms such as likes, views, and ratings are becoming the norm; we will now witness millions of users navigate the metaverse “embodying” a non-fungible version of themselves. Unsurprisingly, “performative activism” and “performance anxiety” are making headlines. Through two essays and a piece of autofiction, we bounce back and forth between true and performed, theory and fiction, self-awareness and self-mythology, ego and gender, to interrogate how the algorithmic experience both pulls from identity and shapes it.
Identity-construction and self-disclosure are built into social media apps–even the basic act of setting up a profile requires giving up biographical information, from your birthday to your hometown.
We’re willing and eager to give ourselves away. What is keeping an ongoing record of one’s personal information and daily experiences if not autobiographical writing? Once we take that biographical information, shape it, and publish it online, it becomes autofictive. Data is a diary.
It’s hard to maintain the singularity, and yet accessibility, of the performance. This is the structure of the star system: it admits those whose performance sets the performer apart from everyday life, but which everyday life can embrace in its difference.
Everyday life is full of vigorously policed norms, invoked to kick in the head of anyone different, unless they are a star, in which case their difference is on the one that affirms the norm. Capitalism didn’t need or want all that much difference.
Whatever it was, it had become too much, all of it. It had become too difficult to perform the simplest tasks, to fold the laundry, to pick up the phone when a friend calls, to smile at the woman across the counter at the grocery store, to make it to the bank in the morning to get cash.
There was a crust, a hard mask, on my face that I couldn’t take off. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, sweating, getting high off of whatever cluster-fuck of vitriol was being spun on the internet, a real junkie.