In the West as we have entered the post-industrial age we have seen fordist models of production either outsourced to the lowest bidder or replaced by machines. Processes of commodification and valorisation have mutated to account for this, with labour transformed from the material to the immaterial and the worker now primarily charged with the sale of their interiority. This shift is co-extensive and intimately related to the development of a number of technologies, most prominently the world wide web, which have embedded an idea of constant connectivity. With rapid spread these technologies have moved from the workplace, to the home, to the pocket and now into our field of vision.
As this has been taking place there has been a drive towards an internalisation of all doubts and worries as we are forced to project a mythical unified self, with any deficiency seen as the result of a personal flaw. This has been picked up on in the work of Mark Fisher, following the work of the psychologist David Smail, when he talks of the ‘privatisation of stress’ within neoliberalism whereby the perceived root cause of the problem of all issues is either an imbalance in brain chemistry or a traumatic experience, coupled with a disavowal of the social construction of distress. This has lead to a massive increase in the use of drugs to treat these supposed aberrances, with an increasing number of people being prescribed anti-depressants to flatten the edges of experience. Another shift in our chemical usage has mutated ideas of intoxication out of a counter culture, with its attempts at a psychedelic experience of the world in which there is a dilation or drift of time and an erasure of a self, to one in which a battery of new smart drugs (to match our smart phones) are used to increase our productive selves. Prime among these is the drug Modafinil. These drugs are known as ‘wakefulness promoting agents’ and are said to be able to keep people awake for up to 40 hours. Not only are you awake during this time but you do not feel tired and have an increased ability to focus, which has lead to an interest in them from those seeking a competitive edge in business. On the blog ‘Bold and Determined’ exists an account of a man who talks of an underground entrepreneur’s forum (who knew?) from which he found access to Modafinil. The story ends with this observation, ‘There is truly one nasty side effect of coming off of modafinil: You go back to normal. And normal is pretty shitty compared to mighty.’ The new hyper-productive self with no off-switch has left us in the perverse situation of the underground drug trade now servicing an elite in the quest for more productivity, an inversion of the previous idea of ‘turning on, tuning in and dropping out’.
This process has lead to a wave of exhaustion as the psychic limits of the human are stretched to breaking point, with the imposition to remain visible through the reputational economy of the ‘like’.