David Wells in No Place for Truth writes a very relevant bit concerning the effects of modernity on the idividual’s phyche. He borrows from David Riesman when describing the “other-directed” person.
On the whole, contemporary individualism is thoroughly emancipated, declining to draw values from the past (even the previous generation). But, paradoxically, it gives up this emancipation from the normative precedents for enslavement to a different sort of external authority — the desire to be like others in the larger culture. This entails more than just peer pressure: we are sensitive not only to the values of close friends and admired acquaintances but also the impersonal voice of fashion, a media consensus, the views of a celluloid idol, the message of a rock star. Having turned inward in a search for meaning, we turn outward in a search for direction (emphasis mine), scanning others for the social signals they emit regarding what is in and what is out, what is desirable and what is not. This produces a new kind of conformity…
…Typically the other-directed person thinks little about career, makes few long-term commitments, seems to have no inner core of character, little conscience, and seeks approval and even affection from a surrogate family, “an amorphous and shifting, though contemporary, jury of peers,” as Riesman put it. This person is oriented not to inner values but to other people. It is in the peer group that acceptance is found and outcasts are named.
…Where once people took pride in their accomplishments and in their character, other-directed individuals think only of how they stand with others. The freedom from all that formerly constrained, such as cultural and family expectations, now “contributes to his insecurity,” Lasch argues — an insecurity “which he can overcome only by seeing his ‘grandiose self’ reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power, or charisma.” Where the older type of individualist saw the world as a wilderness to be cleared and shaped in accordance with his or her will, the contemporary narcissist sees it as a mirror in which to preen him or herself; in the television era, the world is no longer hard… Once people worked to achieve tangible ends, to accomplish things. Now, such accomplishments are of far less significance than one’s “image.” Once people worked; now they manipulate. Once people sweated; now they seduce. Once people wished to be respected, to have their accomplishments recognized; now they wish to be envied, regardless of whether they are envied for anything they have actually accomplished.