Alone together forever with the narcissistic?

Tokyo from the Skytree

There is something not quite right about the whole selfies thing. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I think it unlocks something much deeper and more troubling…

Its all about me

The selfie thing, I do find it self indulgent and dare I say it – slightly narcissistic in nature.

Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. The term originated from the Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.

Maybe instead of a pool of water, its a reflection of yourself in a 533 DPI mobile screen?  I don’t think everyone who does a selfie are inherently doing it for narcissistic reasons. Let me be clear about that. But there is something not quite right about seeing friends Selfies all over my facebook timeline of nothing more than people trying to style things out in front of a mirror. Then you get the likes or +1’s.  Finally you got the millions of selfie sticks being sold and used by people who should know better… its enough to  makes you wonder, right?

While in Tokyo, I saw a lot of selfie sticks and lots of people using them. There use seem to go from a picture with friends to a slightly more worrying shot after shot after shot of them self till they got the right one to share. One guy must have taken about 30 pictures before he was happy with one of them. I know because I was watching him on his super bright iPhone 6  plus.

Its about you… alone

As you can imagine I’m not the only one thinking this.

What greater testament could there be to the “me generation” than the rise and rise of the selfie? Anointed by Oxford Dictionaries’ editors as the word of the year after a 17,000% increase in its usage, the selfie is surely the ultimate emblem of the age of narcissism.

One of the names I’m most unlikely to align with is Andrew Keen. I have slammed Andrew in the past for his views on the internet. But it kills me to say, he makes some good points on  Twit.tv’s Triangulation 183. I’m sure his new book will still have me and many others shaking our heads, I haven’t read his book and are unlikely to buy it to be honest but he’s spot on about the use of algorithms and the selfie thing.

Tokyo from up high

While on my trip to Tokyo I took a few selfies. I never quite feel good about it, my face generally describe how I felt about the whole thing. I also started to wonder if the break down in our social humanity (if people like sherry turkle are correct) can be seen ahead of time in Tokyo?

Japan is always known as way ahead of the curve. When most of us were still using desktops and laptops to connect the internet, residents of Japan were using their phones. Theres many other examples but I spotted something which deeply worries me. Sherry Turkle’s connected alone was playing out everywhere you went.

Selfie Sticks

I was in the queue for a rollercoaster and 4 guys were standing in silence through out the whole 40-50min queue. There were each transfixed to their phones not uttering a single word till we finally got on the ride and then they were best buds, laughing and chatting away. I saw them again later (the theme park wasn’t that busy and isn’t that big – about the size of Thorpe Park) and it was more of the same.  They may have been playing the same game but together they were alone.

Alone together

Sad as it may be (you could say its part of the Japanese culture, but I’m not so sure), you are seeing more and more of this. And its not just a age thing. The online world can be very seductive and some people forget the offline world for many reasons. Maybe things are difficult there, things are not going so well, they can be somebody else? Theres a load of reasons.

Two pieces I have saved in my instapaper, really got me going…

One is via Tony Churnside10 Reasons Why This Generation Is Losing The Ability To Be In Love.

Every individual in the world is egocentric; we all think about our needs and ourselves first and foremost. Whether this is good or bad doesn’t really matter; the world is the way it is. It’s part of human nature.The problem arises when our egocentricity overtakes our ability to feel empathy. As human beings, we have no choice but to live and function within society, within communities of different sizes.

And I found the next one while following links on a site called Thought catalogueThis is the new loneliness

Our generation of sadness and loneliness is of the unchecked variety. Of wallowing. Of letting ourselves be disconnected from both others and ourselves. Learning to soothe more than heal. Learning to put a band-aid on problems instead of working through and solving our problems. If something is not immediate, we don’t want it, even if it’ll make us stronger. We’re not growing as people, not really. We’re shoving away “bad feelings” we don’t want to face by clicking, refreshing, scrolling until we’ve numbed ourselves out enough. It’s addiction.

We cut ourselves off from others, avoiding contact with outsiders. How scared are we? That we are not willing to hand over our camera and talk to (maybe) a familiar stranger?  Who knows what fruitful conversations may spring up because of that moment/encounter/opportunity? But we will never know because we are too focused on our virtual selves.

Sherry Turkle and Andrew Keen could have wrote either and I would somewhat believe it was them.

Akihabara, Tokyo

Virtual friends and likes

This should go without saying because there has been so much said about virtual friends, buddy lists, likes, +1’s, follower counts,  etc. And this is also where the difference between Narcissism (the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes) and Egocentrism (the inability to differentiate between self and other).

I use narcissism because I feel it requires other people to breed as such. Its also something we shouldn’t be heading towards. I can deal with a room of egocentric people for a short while, but a room of narcissists is deeply worrying.

Its all pretty troubling but I have hope for humanity. I feel like its a craze right now. The market can sell more goods you don’t actually need. The drive has always been to make us feel less empowered and cut us off from each other. A disfranchised citizen makes a good consumer?  Retreating to the wall gardens of the 5 stacks.

My hope is we will have more which saddle between the real and virtual worlds and operate in a open fashion. I believe the user interfaces we build, shapes our use and therefore it shapes us – ontological design. From the Cluetrain

#79 –  We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic self-involvement, join the party.

Warning!

This was written and scheduled during a 17 hour flight with very little actual sleep (trying to adjust to GMT as soon as I get off the plane). I’m very tired and I am likely to be connecting things in a very weird way (not like that never happens eh?). But I do feel like there is a link and worth posting…

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

10 thoughts on “Alone together forever with the narcissistic?”

  1. Great post, Ian.

    On the flipside, we also live in an era where everyone thinks it’s okay to film or photograph or record everyone else without asking their permission. The photos of people taking selfies made me smile. In a way, when we take and post selfies we at least maintain some control over our image. As a speaker yourself, I’m sure you’ll have experienced the malaise when someone takes a photo of you on stage and then tweets it, be it a flattering shot or not.

    Narcissism? Hmm… perhaps people are simply losing their sense of self and their place in the world.

  2. I think the selfie (especially when visiting somewhere new) is the same as sending home a postcard or buying a souvenir. All of these tap into the human need to say “I was here! For real! Here’s proof!”
    The selfie is just the latest version and is better than a postcard because it is instant and includes yourself in the photo. And it’s better than a souvenir because it’s basically free.
    So I don’t think people are more narcissistic, it’s just now everyone has an instant, free and frictionless postcard/souvenir making machine on them wherever they go, they are just more likely to use it.

    1. I hear you @Nathanrae. I’m not against selfies as such, more the way act and behaviour with them. If they are postcards, then would you send a postcard with your face all over it?

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