Is It Even Possible to Be an Authentic Person Online?
Lauren Oyler on the Millennial long con of simply being alive
“People often say my generation values authenticity,” remarks the unnamed narrator of Lauren Oyler’s new novel, Fake Accounts. It’s the kind of statement that begs to be read wryly under most circumstances, including those of Oyler’s narrator — who, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, has discovered her boyfriend’s clandestine double life as a popular alt-right conspiracy theorist on social media. Eventually, she becomes an online con artist of sorts, too.
Oyler doesn’t have her protagonist put a name to “my generation” until much later. But she doesn’t need to. Millennials — having been formed by both “the unspoiled period that stretched from our birth to the moment our parents had the screeching dial-up installed,” as Oyler’s narrator observes, and by everything that came next — may be uniquely positioned to notice “the ways in which we casually commit fakery ourselves.” And, reflexively, to don an assortment of protective shields that might circumvent such gruesome clarity. Irony, cynicism, fake accounts—it’s all fair game.
Fake Accounts teases out a preoccupation that underlies much of Oyler’s nonfiction and criticism — including a 5,000-word pan of Jia Tolentino’s 2019 essay collection, Trick Mirror, which purportedly crashed the London Review of Books website early last year. Namely, that we are all surveilled and for sale. A tremendous number of us allow this knowledge to shape our constructions of identity, to varying degrees of skill and self-delusion. Factor in a gig-ified labor economy that’s populated by so many monetized and commoditized selves, and what even is authenticity? At what point do you become the bit you’ve committed to? Does it even matter?
GEN: The people want to know: Is authenticity real?
Lauren Oyler: Whether any abstract concepts are real is a higher-level question that I can answer. But I think, from a sort of pragmatic viewpoint, yes. I think that on an individual level, anyone who acts as they feel, without strategizing, is being more authentic than someone who’s not. Even if strategy is sort of subtextual and baked in and they don’t even realize that they’re being…