According to the common story about our fall into postmodernity, being yourself has become hard work. Once, people were born into relatively stable situations in which identity was prescribed based on where one was born and to whom. There was little choice in the matter of what sort of life one would lead, and little social or geographical mobility. The social categories — class, gender, ethnicity, religion — that determined the possibilities for one’s life were essentially fixed, as were the way those categories were defined. But then industrialization and the advent of mass media scuttled those categories over time and rendered social norms more fluid and malleable. Identity was no longer assigned but became a project for individuals to realize. It became an opportunity and a responsibility, a burden. You could now fail to become someone. Some sociologists and psychologists label this condition “ontological insecurity.” In The Divided Self, R.D. Laing defines it as when one lacks “the experience of his own temporal continuity” and does not have “an overriding sense of personal consistency or cohesiveness.” Without this stable sense of self, Laing argues, every interaction threatens to overwhelm the individual with the fear of losing oneself in the other or of being obliterated by their indifference. “He may feel more insubstantial than substantial, and unable to assume that the stuff he is made of is genuine, good, valuable,” Laing writes of the ontologically insecure. “And he may feel his self as partially forced from his body.”