The Dangers of a “Selfie” Culture
By Lindsay Pettee
Our generation is in a weird place. We’re young enough to be adapted to technology but old enough to remember what it was like growing up without it. Today, it isn’t uncommon to see elementary school kids with iPhones or even toddlers kept occupied in a restaurant by the colorful screen of an iPad. I can certainly understand the benefits of distracting a fussy child with a screen when out in public, since no one ever appreciates ordering the lobster mac & cheese and getting a side of bleeding ear drums as well. I always wonder, however, how this new generation of kids who are growing up with their eyes glued to an electronic device are going to end up. We live in an age when “selfie” is an appropriate term and shows based on total self-absorption, such as The Rich Kids of Beverly Hills and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, are rampant on television. Technology has turned us inward so that now we are content to disengage from our surroundings and immerse ourselves in an alter-reality created through various apps and social media. Without trying to sound like a complete Luddite, spending my days cursing “the youth” while tossing empty bottles of cheap whiskey at kids from my front porch, I believe we need an intervention.
In “Why Social Media Isn’t Social,” Thomas White describes how social media sites allow us to create shields that prevent us from forming healthy social relationships since it doesn’t involve face to face interaction. He also talks about the fake persona that social media allows people to create based on the way we want to be perceived by our peers. He says, “By crafting our image like a celebrity, we become unattainable and unrelatable.” Not only do we become unrelatable, but scientists have shown that social media is often linked to higher levels of narcissism since sites like Facebook and Twitter can be used as a medium for self-validation. According to University of Michigan researcher Elliot Panek, “Young people may overevaluate the importance of their own opinions,” causing them to post more frequently. Like for example, “Boobs and Loubs,” the blog “for the girl creating her own future…for the boy who digs boobs!” by Rich Kids star Morgan Stewart. I just can’t help but hating on every aspect of this show, it’s a disaster in every sense of the word “self-respect.” The site offers beauty and fashion tips, photos from Instagram and her “Weekly Mani,” as well as a “Realness” category that documents her day-by-day activities. My favorite section is the bio, however, which states that:
This blog is dedicated to girls who are creating their own future. For the girl who can’t pass a math class to save her life, for the girl who is fiercely intelligent in her own special way, for the girl who recognizes she is special and not meant to be like everybody else. For the girl whose talents don’t always help keep her in college and last but definitely not fucking least: for the girl who celebrates everything that is being a 100% woman.
I’m not going to bother touching the complete obliviousness to decades of feminist discourse that is presented in the last line since it doesn’t even make grammatical sense. But seriously?! What an excellent message to send to the preteen audience that probably reads this: “Don’t worry, who needs a proper education when you’re ‘fiercely intelligent in your own special way’?” Unfortunately, what will be lost on the young, impressionable minds who take this to heart is the fact that the only reason Morgan has survived “creating her own future” is because of the immense wealth she has to fall back on when her brains and personality fall through. This is one of my major concerns with the new culture of self-obsession via social media: the false sense of entitlement and feeling of excessive self-importance that it causes, which leads to an increased amount of uninformed, over-opinionated nonsense that does nothing but spread misinformation. Everyone has seen what I call the “ripple” articles on Facebook and other sites that cover all kinds of topics from the latest chemical dangers in the food we eat, to the secrets behind a perfect life (from the twenty-year-old girl you should trust because she’s been married for three months and has seen it all). I call these “ripple” articles because they are based mostly on opinion with no validity and no real point besides stirring up the pathos of the internet community. I really can’t think of a reason to spread these types of articles besides the fact that the author loves to revel in their own deluded brilliance when their opinion becomes a viral sensation. Shortly after these articles are posted, there are always at least five answers to the original that usually start with “Response to…” Sometimes people actually do informed research, which can be educational, but most of the time it’s just the same act of spouting out an opinion, just from the other side of the table.
So what gives me the right to sit here and rant about my growing cynicism for the internet world? Not much, to be honest (though I do use valid sources to back up my claims). My intentions for writing this are not to reach 100,000 “likes” and “follows” as the newest article that gets shared in every other news feed post. It is to hopefully provide awareness about the ease of publishing misinformation on the web and what our technologically-obsessed society’s growing narcissism via social media could potentially lead to. I do believe that there are many positive assets to the internet as long as we keep ourselves in check. By spending more time disconnected from our various devices, it becomes harder to get sucked into the vortex of false guidance and self-obsession that comprises most of the web. Hopefully, by the time the next generation rolls around, kids will be back to entertaining themselves through imagination.