There can be no argument that technology is changing our world and our behavior. And it’s not just the habit of obsessively checking our phones, though that is part of it. There seems to be an underlying perception issue of our place in the world.
These perception issues, in my opinion, include a lack of self-awareness, narcissistic behavior, attention deficit, societal disconnect, and the need for instant gratification. My reasoning for each are discussed in turn:
• Self-awareness: My favorite quote on this subject comes from the baseball movie “Bull Durham.” “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.” Self-awareness, whether is it mired in space and time, perspective, or social etiquette, is becoming a lost personality trait. A synonym of sorts is “oblivious,” which is how the lack of self-awareness is often recognized. The more we are wrapped up in ourselves, the more oblivious we become. Some people seem to think that they, and their interests, are the only things that exist.
• Narcissistic behavior: A great read on this subject is “The Narcissism Epidemic” by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. Chapters include “The many wonders of admiring yourself,” “The Disease of excessive self-admiration,” and “Hell yeah, I’m Hot.” It’s an exploration in self-promotion, materialism, and how parenting is leading to the delusional perception that each of us is especially remarkable. Parents coddle and label their children as princesses or stars. When their children fail it is always the fault of others, which result in whining and lawsuits. Through social media and reality shows, many people talk of themselves as being a “brand.” Because anyone can open their world to the Internet, it’s easy to engage into a false sense of relevancy — and obsessively take selfies of yourself.
• Attention deficit: On the show “Brain Games,” they conducted an experiment in which young adults were told they were part of a focus group. They were to watch a video and offer feedback, but in order to get paid for their participation they had to put their cell phones away. “Brain Games” faked a problem with the video, left the room and reiterated that participants could not use their cell phones. As you might guess, within a matter of minutes, these adults could not resist and started checking their phones. Despite being paid not to check their phones, the need for consistent stimulation was too overwhelming. It was too much to suggest just sitting there quietly or even maybe talking to each other. Our technical world is creating a population that has the attention span of a goldfish.
• Societal disconnect: Musician and actor Carrie Brownstein said, “I think that half of us feel fraudulent in our lives anyway. There’s that strange disconnect of not really knowing what we’re doing sometimes, or why it matters. It’s our existential crisis.” For the things we do know, we ignore the consequences of our actions through justification or assumed disconnect. For the things we don’t know, we choose to act out of ignorance rather than make an effort to understand why things are the way they are. This disconnect is widespread and now includes most human endeavors such as politics, religion, economics, and nature. We seemingly can’t pay attention long enough to make the connection.
• Instant gratification: Now is not soon enough anymore. From materialism to education, it’s about getting what you want when you want it — usually as soon as possible. Credit has allowed people to buy things they can’t afford; colleges keep shortening the time it takes to earn a degree. Activist and author Adora Svitak commented, “We’re used to the characteristics of social media — participation, connection, instant gratification — and when school doesn’t offer the same, it’s easy to tune out.” Once out of school, there is an impatience to work up the corporate ladder. The lack of self-awareness and narcissistic delusion creates unrealistic expectations. And the need for consistent stimulation and individual reward has come at the expense of community and reflection.
We live in a competitive world, one that is shrinking, which may be partly responsible for the attention to self-interest. That the Internet has offered a voice to those who would otherwise not be heard is not necessarily a bad thing.
And there is certainly nothing wrong with working hard to be the best you can be. However, social media and our obsession with glamour — sports, music, wealth, image — has created a lack of perspective. Maybe we need to make more of an effort promoting qualities such as unselfishness, consideration, kindness, understanding, patience, reflection, and humility.
Rob Swindell is a lifelong Lorain County resident offering his opinions on politics, science, and social issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.