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Social Media and Gratification

‘The rise of social media has created a generation of narcissists eager to offer up their private images for public consumption, but like peacocks spreading their tails, such displays, whilst feeding self-esteem, also risks attracting the attention of predators.’ Elementary, season 4

Whilst the second half of that statement is equally interesting I am particularly fascinated by the first half, and in particular with a thought I had while writing a letter to my sister today. People no longer write letters. This can be seen as a direct result (although other factors contribute in a mass of influence, such as an instant gratification, zero patience mentality), from instant messaging. Let’s have a quick, little look at the structure of letter writing for social interaction. The nature of writing a letter (for social interaction), suggests one would write to someone with whom one had a particular relationship, but for reasons of time, opportunity and/or distance, is unable to meet face to face. A letter would likely be long, intimate, and both draw a picture of the important or notable events of the writer and enquire into same such of the receiver (in other words they would share each others’ lives in a series of conversations), possibly maintaining conversation had over months or even years (the traditional idea of the long-distance chess game springs to mind). If the receiver was within reach they would meet to do the very same things and so a letter would be unnecessary.

I might return to letter writing, but for the moment I want to concentrate on the nature of instant messaging, and the art of saying nothing at all... and for that I would like to have a little look at the difference between self-esteem and narcissism. Following is a quote from an article in Psychology Today magazine.

  1. ‘The truth is the rise in narcissism among millennials may have less to do with our social networks online and more to do with our social networks at home. Throughout the last few decades, there has been an increase in parental coddling and the so-called “self-esteem” movement. Parents and teachers trying to instill a healthy sense of self-esteem in children by praising them lavishly often do more harm than good.’

Well, of course, what did you expect...? Parents no longer want teachers to scold their children for failure, because it will lower their self-esteem. Well, nothing lowers your sense of self-esteem more than not being very good at anything. At the end of the day everything in life comes down to practice and experience; if you do something poorly then you can practice and do it better, and if you do something well you can practice and do it brilliantly, but if you don’t practice... if you are not made to sit at the piano and repeat the same exercises, if you are told on the first attempt your pencil sketch (looking something like a snake eating a boa-constrictor), is a masterpiece, if you are not made to do your homework conscientiously, the results are fairly obvious. Except it isn’t the fault of the child when they grow up to be shallow, to value money, image and fame, instant gratification (all of which are traits of the narcissist; their personality based on fear and failure – because they know they are not very good at anything and seek distraction in the immediate), it is the direct result of the parents who allowed it (and we are now entering second generation narcissism – so perhaps they simply know no better...?), in the first place.

Returning to social media and messaging I had the delight to sit near a girl in Starbucks a little while ago entering into a conversation of a social media app. This was interesting because now they (please note I DO NOT ALIGN MYSELF WITH THEIR RANKS), now no longer even need to write. First came the instant message, a banality to reassure themselves they had not been forgotten in their insignificance, then came the new acronyms such as LOL, OMG and a personal hate ROLFL, and for those of you like me who actually have to look these things up that means ‘rolling on the floor laughing’ (as if you wouldn’t look for immediate medication for anyone who was actually rolling on the floor in laughter...), and now... well, now they just hold a little button and speak into the wireless earphone in their ear and say...

Girl: Hi


Recipient: Hi

Girl: Whatcha doing?


Recipient: Unknown response

Girl: Sitting in Starbucks


Recipient: Unknown response, although elicits a giggle

Girl: No, on my own...


Recipient: Unknown response, but elicits a wistful sigh

Girl: No idea, may be Jack’s Place (one presumes a bar of the same name not far from that spot)...


Anyway, that’s not only painful to write, but is becoming increasingly painful to remember. So what are we looking at here? We are looking at the second generation of a majority group that ‘can do no wrong’, who have no patience and are not particularly good at anything and, according to another article are becoming increasing desperate to prove their self-worth by portraying themselves in the best possible light through social media. ‘Students who were more involved with Facebook were more likely to think other people’s lives were happier and better. These heavy Facebook users were also more likely to negatively compare themselves to others and feel worse about themselves.’

If we look at them closely enough we see that these are the very same people, making others, very much like themselves, feel worse too – this never ending circle of pretention and despair. When you choose which photos to show other people, when you tell people stories about what’s been happening in your life, when you decide which of the many pictures taken are to go into your wedding album, etc... you...we, tend to choose the very best.

However, it is difficult to see how this is a valid argument only applicable to social media devices in our present time, because have we not always shared the best of ourselves, rather than the worst – the worst being saved for those particular relationships developed to a point where we no longer need to keep that perfect facade in place at all social moments.

So is the true argument, I’m stumbling along towards, something along the lines of: social media, and its instant nature, suggests a difficulty in making deeper, long-term relationships, ones which allow for the potential to become intimate (in the traditional sense of the word rather than the sexual one). While social media itself is a product of generations of people living in relative luxury (compared to the last could of millennia), where the predator is no longer the ruling class... Concepts of equality scream abuse at that which stands out, stands above, and the notion of being special at a price is far more onerous than pretending to be special, with a little repression slipped into the transaction (economic metaphor intentional). I heard the other day ‘greed can no longer be relied upon to win out over sloth’.

It is, and to be honest this little exploration had only further muddied the waters, a confusing and complicated time. What I do know, and this, for whatever pieces of my personality make this author, seems important, is when I ask people my own age, give or take a decade, whether their parents sat by their bed at night reading them a night-time story they almost always answer in the affirmative, and when I ask infants (and my position in life gives me access to hundreds), whether their parents do the same, I am almost always answered with a little confusion and a negative – the two seem connected to patience, gratification and effort, and perhaps such notions should be examined when we try to assess whether our attachments are related to intimacy and sharing or ‘emotional hunger’...

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