I’m old. I’ll just come right out and say it. Maybe not in years, though pushing 42 feels a lot older than I thought it would, but definitely in spirit. I think I was born an old man, locked inside the youthful flesh was a curmudgeon that preferred solitude to singalongs, the hermit on the hillside, even before I was actually one. I say this to preface what I’m about to say and discuss next, to give fair warning because I’m well-damn aware how ancient it’s going to make me sound.
Kids these days, am I right? Ok no, that’s not really what we’re gonna be talking about, but we’re going to be aiming right at something that has permeated every tiny aspect of our collective culture over the last decade: Social media. Having two teenagers in our house half the time means that we’re bombarded by the visual of it, the reality of its omnipotence, and even the photo I posted above shows just how much our technology has become attached to our very souls. Everywhere we go, everywhere we travel, more than all things we see necks craned down, staring at the blue glow of a mobile device. Concerts, sporting events, waiting rooms, grocery stores, restaurants, even family dinners. As I’ve mentioned on this site many-a-time before, I’ve also noticed over the last decade, a massive (and this is just my opinion based on my observations) increase in selfish behavior, in a new brand of self-centeredness that I have never seen before. It got me wondering, as all things make this bizarre brain of mine wonder, and the question it raised was this:
Is social media the byproduct of human beings becoming more and more selfish, OR, is the fact that human beings are selfish the reason why social media was created at all?
Aye, there’s the rub. I would love if all you lovely readers of this Signal Fire chime in, and maybe we can get a little debate going on it, but I find myself going back and forth on both sides of this equation. Lately, however, I think I’ve hit a point on that teeter-totter where my feet are sticking to the ground on one side more than the other, and to be honest, it’s that I think we blame far too much on technology, on social media, and far too little on the humanity causing this inherent shift.
Perhaps rather than our selfishness being a byproduct of social media and technology, it’s the other way around. Maybe the reason social media and technology have been enjoying a boon of epic proportions is because we’re inherently more selfish than we ever have been before. Maybe technology has finally caught up with our own narcissism, maybe we finally have the means to focus on ourselves in all new ways, at all hours of the day. Ever single year since the technology arrived to allow people to instantly see themselves in their own photograph, selfies have been climbing as the most common genre of photograph taken. It shows no sign of slowing. Apps like Snapchat, BeReal, are canvased in their entirety with them. Try this on for size, every single day, 5 BILLION snaps are sent globally. I would wager, after watching the way that the two teenagers in this house engage with the app, that the vast, vast majority of the photos being sent are hastily taken selfies.
When Instagram began, ahh the good ol’ days, it was a a photo sharing app that allowed people to quickly share images from their day to whomever chose to follow. In chronological order we could scroll through the happenings of people we chose to interact with. Facebook too, after its Harvard infancy, was just a way to keep in touch with those that mattered to you. Gone are those days, replaced with algorithms that aim to put in front of you a multitude of advertisements, that prize going viral over all things, that reward users for constantly posting videos or photos of themselves, reacting to even the most meaningless things. I read an article yesterday, that some people are making thousands upon thousands of dollars every day, simply “reacting” to videos other people make, some tweak of the Reels feature on Instagram.
In the wake of this, I have noticed the previously mentioned up-tick of selfish behavior. I think we all got a lot of glimpses of this over the last few years in particular, people putting themselves before all others, pushing forward this ethos of entitlement and self-centric behavior. As I type this, I feel archaically old, but it doesn’t stop it feeling true to me. I’ve had many conversations with others to gauge their own feelings towards this, and universally I have found that everyone else seems to agree.
We’re more selfish than we’ve ever been, and it’s terrifying.
So today, I want to start a trend of blaming the technology around us less, and blaming ourselves more. We created the means for rewarding this selfish behavior, we, not some malevolent overseers, we. We created the tools that reinforce our own narcissism, and we’re stripping away from the top down, the repercussions for such attitudes. The more selfish we are, the more we are rewarded, the higher we’re allowed to climb. Look no further than the ridiculousness going on in our own government and the insane state of politics in this country for proof of this. Look at the booming popularity of white supremacy, of hard-line nationalism, of ethnocentrism veiled as patriotism.
I don’t know the answers to this, and when I find myself in a situation like that, I tend to ask questions. This is me, asking you all the question. Are we more selfish because of technology like social media, or does social media exist because we’re all so much more selfish than we ever have been before?
What’s your take? No matter what opinion you do find yourself having, and defending, the follow-up question is even more important:
How do we reverse this, no matter where the blame is placed? How do we, the collective we, become less selfish and more compassionate? How do we turn the tide?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, I’d love for us to at least take a crack at fixing it. Why not? What else do we have to do besides doom-scrolling the very apps we’re discussing now?
We stare at ourselves,
forget the world around us,
and blame it away.