Millennials are often dubbed as narcissistic brats. Apparently, what they call as “capturing a moment” is to outsiders a sign of vanity bordering on conceit. And, yes, we’re talking about selfies — something that millennials are doing on a pandemic level.
The younger generation seems to be chronicling their lives by taking pictures of just about anything they do. It appears like selfies fulfill most, if not all, of their psychological and emotional needs. What’s even more interesting is the fact that this narcissistic behavior is not just tolerated in the millennial circle; it’s almost glorified in its popularity. Jeffrey Kluger, editor-at-large at Time magazine, said it best: “We’ve become accustomed to preeners and posers who don’t have anything to offer except themselves and their need to be on the public stage.”
This is why it doesn’t really come as a shock that outsiders regard millennials as the “Me Generation.” Older age groups believe their younger counterparts to be brought up on the idea that they alone are special — that they can be anyone and achieve anything. As far as outsiders are concerned, millennials are arrogant enough to claim this world as theirs and think that everyone else is just squatting on their private territory. Of course, this is all normal behavior to them, but their so-called culture of narcissism gets a bad rap outside their tight-knit circle.
Before we say anything more against the generation I belong to (yup, millennial over here), let’s take a detour first to the reality behind the true narcissistic generation.
The Truth About the Me Generation
Nearly everyone who has heard of the myth of the narcissistic millennial believes it to be true. The signs are there, after all, and they surely aren’t hard to believe. However, what the majority fails to realize is that every generation has borne the symptoms of narcissism at some point. The truth is that the qualities so often attributed to millennials are just indicators of early adulthood.
It’s natural for young people to be a little self-obsessed. Before your parents became figures of wisdom, they were vain, silly, naïve, and full of themselves — just like you are now (no offense). As a legit 2010 study found, “Every generation is Generation Me, as every generation of younger people are [sic] more narcissistic than their elders.”
Doesn’t that just put things into perspective? Millennials are not, after all, masterminds but mere followers who go with the dictates of time and society. So, I guess it’s safe to include myself in the discussion now and use we instead of they when referring to millennials. If facts are to be trusted, we should be liberated from the stereotype that has bound us for so long.
If selfies don’t signify narcissism, what do they represent? Apparently, we take selfies to express our identity and boost our self-esteem. Selfies mean something to us. We search for and find ourselves in those retrospective moments when we gaze at old pictures. And, surely, our ancestors felt the same way with their old photographs. We’re not vain (at least the majority of us aren’t); we just like hoarding memories and sharing them with the world.
When Enough Isn’t Enough
Let’s wrap the talk on narcissism. It’s just one piece of the puzzle, and there’s a bigger issue we need to address. Outsiders shouldn’t be alarmed at how many selfies a day we take. Instead, they should be concerned about how much of ourselves we reveal through those photos. A 2014 study by Camp Mobile found that 81% of U.S. teens and young adults felt that their peers shared too much information online. The way I see it, our American friends just confessed to our collective guilt as pawns of digital oversharing.
As always, there are two sides of the same coin that we need to look at to understand the bigger picture. On one hand, when we share a lot of information on social media, we risk inviting intruders who can use that information against us. By “intruders,” I mean the frauds that Dave the Psychic from Belgium represented and warned us about: hackers and creeps that stalk us on Facebook and steal our bank credentials. Fingers crossed that none of us are dense enough to post sensitive information online.
On the other hand, digital oversharing can be a way to mask our true selves and deprive the world of “the real us.” We can share loads about our lives, but by doing so reveal little about ourselves. This is the paradox of digital oversharing.
Living in a Distorted Reality
The paradox of digital oversharing is something that everyone can grasp, although others know it only on a subconscious level. People know that the things they see on social media are not real — that they’re mostly staged and curated to perfection. We millennials have distorted our social media representations to fit the idealistic standards we have set for ourselves. We handpick the photos we share publicly. Anything that hints on an imperfection gets tossed to the bin. We only share things that portray the versions of ourselves that we want the world to see.
All of us adopt different personas that we can use in different contexts. Social media is where we become the people we want to be. It’s a grand stage, and we’re all actors playing different roles. There, we stand out. There, we are the stars of our own shows.
The Things We Fake on Social Media
Give me a big grin if you’re a genuine soul who has never tried to tweak reality and present it in a better light on social media (or anywhere else, for that matter). That’s fine, you can unfurl your brows now. It’s not your fault that you romanticize life. Heck, everyone does it. Here are some of the things we alter on social media:
Welcome to the fitness era, where everyone is trying to look a certain way. Are you familiar with Clarendon, Gingham, Juno, Lark, and Valencia? Oh, come off it. If you’re a typical millennial, you’ve used these filters before to make your face look more divine and your physique more godly.
Come posting time, we choose one perfect photo to upload and toss out the other thirty that don’t meet the idealized appearance we want to flaunt. The result? True emotions get buried under the masks we wear to impress others. We so badly want to be noticed, praised, and envied that we forget to just be ourselves.
Open your feed. Apart from selfies and pictures of cats, what do you see? People partying, traveling, eating in fancy restaurants? In other words, you see people living their lives to the fullest. It’s fine, you can go sulk on your bed now, reflect on how dull your life is, and cry yourself to sleep. I’ll still be here when you wake up, smiling patronizingly at how silly you are.
Let me say this again, even at the risk of sounding redundant. The photos you see on social media have stories behind them, and not all of those stories are as flattering as the photos themselves. If you flaunt your own indulgences, you’re likely to impose the same crippling feeling on someone else. All I’m saying is that we (yes, me included) tend to see problems where there are none.
Ah, yes. Relationships — the root of all happiness, resentment, and everything in between. Bad ones are common, and good ones are possible enough to attain. It’s the nearly perfect ones that are too elusive, they might as well be non-existent.
Everyone wants a perfect relationship with their family, friends, or a special someone. That’s why it isn’t hard to understand why some of us romanticize our relationships on social media. We’re all playing the same game. Who has the best partner? Who has the coolest friends? Who has the most awesome family? We’re all thrilled at the idea of belonging to something special and rare.
As self-indulgent as some of us are, we don’t want to be perceived as such. We want people to see our good side — the side that makes us appear vulnerable, human, and relatable. That’s why we post photos that paint a good picture of us as great parents, responsible pet owners, and generous human beings in general. We want the world to see us at our best.
A Culture of Self-Comparison
Social media is designed to connect people and make communication easier and more convenient. However, like everything good, it comes at a price. By enabling us to communicate better, it also tempts us to look over at our neighbor’s plate and stick our nose into their business. Its very nature inadvertently creates an atmosphere where we can easily compare our lives with others’.
As a result, some of us are left obsessed with the false reality created by this networking platform. We forget that it’s all staged. It’s all a series of elaborate and filtered lies. Social media is generally harmless, but it becomes problematic when our perception of reality gets compromised. When we start comparing ourselves to idealistic standards, happiness becomes more abstract, and we become hard-to-please perfectionists who believe nothing is ever enough.
We can blame social media for all the negative things associated with our generation, but it is precisely for that reason that we shouldn’t. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the millennial culture of digital oversharing. After all, it’s only as destructive as we allow it to be. We can choose the way it affects our lives, both on- and offscreen.
Let’s wrap this thing up so you can begin digesting this burrito of information. The paradox of digital oversharing is clear: We share a lot online but reveal only a little about ourselves. Most of us sacrifice reality in order to have an identity.
But, hey, this isn’t supposed to be all bad. It turns out that we still subconsciously paint an almost accurate picture of ourselves despite our truth-shading. We may tweak a few things here and there, but we can’t fully hide who we are. When all’s said and done, we can’t totally disconnect social media from reality.
Or can we? What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.