On selfies

Came across this thoughtful article on what may be the most popular activity today: selfies. But it does come with a price. As Olympia Nelson wrote:

"If social media only caused narcissism, it wouldn't be the worst thing. Instagram and Facebook are social networks that not only breed narcissistic tendencies but transform relations into a sexual rat race."

But it's the unoriginality, the lack of any creativity, the impulse to conform (sexually, politically, or whatever) that makes even this simple act of self-indulgence go from bad to worse: "Everyone likes receiving compliments and it makes us feel awesome that our own appearance can provide us with an ego boost. But what kind of photos produce an epidemic of 'likes?' Nothing with too much creativity but hip, titty and kiss. It's the true scourge of the selfie."

In the end, one can't help but agree with Nelson's insight of the selfy being "a neurotic impulse, not a happy one." And, we have to note, this narcissism has nothing to do with gender: guys are as apt to engage in this narcissistic, self-indulgent sort of behavior as girls. Hence, there's Anthony Weiner in the US; while in this country there's this endless array of couples shooting videos of themselves having sex (so many, in fact, one wonders already why they even bother considering the practice already seems so pedestrian).

This reminds me of three articles I wrote, noting down the seeming self-obsession of people nowadays. Somehow, it's convincing me I may be prescient. Or something like it.

The first was written in 2010, Everybody's a Rockstar:

"Everybody’s a rockstar nowadays. People that normally would have no claim to fame (or notoriety) would find their faces (and complete range of poses) on the Internet. Being ill informed, unread, or without any semblance of writing skills? Doesn’t stop them from airing their views extensively on Facebook."

The resulting danger of a culture encouraging (even rewarding) intellectually lazy people is something related to what James Surowiecki wrote about. Interestingly (and ironically), the author of The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations actually discards the idea of an infallible crowd and instead bolsters an idea we all already know: a deliberate and studied decision by an informed people will always be better than one made out of the emotional unthinking actions of the many. Our history is replete with the latter. Surowiecki talks about crowds that made very bad decisions because the individual members of the crowd were not thinking, letting their own judgment be determined by those around them, to the point that a bandwagon is produced but of which everyone is simply imitating and conforming to the sloppy or emotionally impaired thinking of others (or of those sufficiently loud enough to let their positions known). The tragedy in such situations of “irrational’ crowds is that any good, studied, and learned thinking by individuals become lost, discarded, or - worse - attacked. In this regard, Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture would be good to read.

Which leads to the second article - The Anti-Intellectual State:

"But indeed, the reason for this anti-intellectual bias lies with our 'intellectuals' themselves. I mean: do we even have real intellectuals? There’s this well-known management professor (later government official) who lectured constantly against oligarchs only to spinelessly end up covering for their corruption. A columnist happily namedrops Rawls or Chomsky for no useful purpose except to release hot air. He once analyzed a recently elected public official (acknowledged of humble origins) and weirdly concluded, due to etymological reasons, that he’s an 'ilustrado.' Even assuming that’s correct, what was the point? Then there’s this economist whose idea of public debate is to screech and scream against those who dissent from her views. It’s ridiculous to lecture as if one is the fount of infallible knowledge when, after all those years spent in government or academe giving economic advice, the Philippines is still in its economic quagmire.

Intellectuals are there to encourage the greater populace to think critically and objectively, to think calmly and methodically, to discuss politely, to like thinking (and learning), and to think for a purpose. Not paralyze people into inaction or scream loads of esoteric data in order to shut them up. In the end, our people have no respect for intellectuals (as well as politicians) because those who pretend to being it are merely into one huge ego trip and treat being an intellectual as a performance for people’s entertainment. They serve no purpose other than as a diversion during coffee breaks or cocktails. Intellectuals should exhort people to unify their actions with their thoughts, demand responsibility and accountability, all rooted in realistic and doable considerations. Above all, intellectuals should practice what they preach. Otherwise, they’re just encouraging the country to be basket cases like them."

The third article I referred to was written just a few months ago, Me, Myself, and I:

"While indeed the democratization of information, the full utilization of the wisdom of crowds, and the greater participation of the public in the marketplace of ideas is ostensibly beneficial, not so if it leads people to sloppiness in thought.

Writer and Cambridge lecturer (never mind Oxford) Edward de Bono certainly thinks so. In an interview with news.com.au, he said: 'There is danger on the internet and social media... that you do not have to think to be very dangerous. Social media causes laziness, that we feel will get more information and do not need to have his own ideas. We got the idea from someone else, we do not need to look at the data, we only see what others have to say.'"

In the end, we (specially the parents) either face up to this problem now. Or pay for it later:

"Which makes me think: what effect does this instant celebrity (or whatever it is) have on the population? Without the need to acquire the skills, humility, and patience garnered from the constant supervision by one’s superior, the burden of redoing repeatedly a piece of work until it’s properly done, without the need of honing craftsmanship, researching and verifying the credibility of sources, the constant nagging and disciplining by an elder whether a work has logic and methodical train of thought, how does that affect the development of their character? When all they have to do, by way of example, is copy and paste obscure articles on the internet, Google and Wiki their way through research, then publish their works to the admiration of their peers who wouldn’t know any better? What’s the point of hard work and a demanding experienced mentor if one can be an instant star on the internet or reality TV anyway?

Makes me miss the days when you have guys like Michael Jordan (although there’s still Kobe Bryant). Guys who listen to their coach (even when they don’t like what they’re hearing), guys who became great not because they were creative but because they repeatedly did (without complaining) the simple basic stuff over and over and over again until they got it right. And, most importantly, guys who understand that they are part of a team or institution, with a history and tradition, which are far more important than their individual sense of self, ego, or feelings."