I read something more than a week ago, right here on HuffPost, that's had me on a rampage. Since then, every time my 17-year-old daughter picked up her iPhone, I've wanted to pounce on her the way I pounced on her sister the day after the '94 earthquake here in Southern California with every aftershock. Her sister was 4 and a half at the time and whenever there was a new rumble, I'd literally lunge across the room and flatten her to the floor. That is the intensity with which Friday's article hit me.
The blog post, "The Addiction to Internet Popularity," written by an L.A.-based psychologist, tapped into the "new narcissism," as I've taken to calling it. The age of innocence lost to and through technology. In short, people spending their time, energy and mental capacity taking pictures of themselves eating, sleeping, trying on clothing, at a party, at the mall, at the beach, and sharing them with the world via email, text messaging, Instagram, and Lord know what other platforms.
Is this just another case of us (man and womankind) taking a cool way of sharing photos with your friends in Australia (shout out to Tina B), or the kids' grandparents, and doing it to excessive and disgusting lengths? It scares and concerns me, it does. It kind of scares the hell out of me, really.
The author of the post was also concerned. After spending her family vacation watching her two young adult daughters taking and Instagramming photos of themselves in many different outfits in many different locales, 24/7, she took to the keyboard to type out a red flag warning. Whatever happened to family vacations where you played games, had barbecues at the beach, or camped out in the mountains and actually interacted with each other, instead of everyone being an island unto themselves lost in their own particular "app"? Oh God, instead of that 24th shot of yourself in the blue bikini, how about you read a chapter of Beloved, or Tortilla Curtain? A book by George Sanders would be a great choice as well, even on a Kindle! Whatever happened to summer reading? Did it go the way of actual "face time"?
There are a whole crop of kids out there, teenagers and young adults, who don't know how to talk on the phone, including my 17-year-old. But she can get on her iPhone and figure out how to get to some house way out in hells half acre to hear a band she just heard on her iPhone and send the address out to a bunch of people she's never met but knows through the Internet. This she'll all do in about a minute. Then while she's at the concert over in hells half acre she'll be sending out more pictures over her iPhone for her friends to see. The question is, is she then fully present at the concert? Is anyone fully present anymore, is the bigger question really, as so many people seem to be busy tweeting their lives away.
We need to learn to use our devices so they don't use us. The way we have to learn to drink wine so it adds to our experience and not over indulge in it so it owns us. The same with food... we want it to nourish but not kill us. Why must we be the land of excess?
When our social media status defines what we think of ourselves, when how many "likes" of a photo of our self in a new outfit defines the mood of our day, this is not good. It's bad. Bad and sad.
Bill Davidow, author of "Overconnected: The Promise and Threat of the Internet," cites psychologists Jean Twenge and W.Keith Campbell's study, conducted in 2009, that showed that narcissistic personality traits have risen since the 1980s almost as quickly as obesity rates in this country. In Davidow's article in the Atlantic, he quotes Elias Aboujaoude, professor of psychiatry at Stanford, who said that our ability to tailor the internet to cater our every need and desire is making us more narcissistic.
Those of us who have raised teenagers know that teenagers and young adults tend to be narcissistic anyway. It comes with the territory and could almost be called a stage like middle school girls gossiping. We move through stages as part of our learning, "move through" being the words to watch here. Getting caught in the Venus Fly trap called all about me could be, as I said, bad and sad.
Every time I saw my daughter with the phone, last weekend, getting back to that, I'd say "put it down" like she was holding a large knife or something else I'm afraid of. Of course I was over reacting, but again, like I said, I'm scared and concerned. Put it down please and don't be so self-absorbed (aka narcissistic) was really what I was saying.
Where, oh where, did this rampant self-absorption come from? Did we (or rather, I, willing to claim it as I am) create this? Is this the by product of all the years of "good jobbing" it. You know, praising our 10-year-old for pitching a lousy ball at Little League. You know, "Good job, Jimmy," we shout as the bat barely hits the ball and the ball sputters a few inches and dies right by Jimmy's feet.
Has my generation made our kids the center of our universe to the point that they are indeed the center of their own universe and blinded to other planets in their sky? Have we tried so hard to do it all right, do it all so well, that we've made our offspring nervous wrecks, constantly seeking validation from any "app" in a storm. It could also be another by product of the reality TV world where Warhol's 15 minutes of fame has been reduced to five, and people will spill their guts for two. Where a little girl with a name one would call a stuffed animal gets to be a "star." Things we used to do privately in the course of growing up are now done publicly, causing confusion and inviting controversy.
Maybe it's that they are just caught in the first wave of technical possibility, all of them. The first wave when you just can't get enough. Maybe like many new and addicting activities, the obsessive part will die down, play itself out, and the game can be played on a more level field, without striking fear in the hearts of those of us watching from the sidelines.
Whatever the answer is, like I said, this scares me. Moms and dads, friends and families, I think we need to pay close attention to this one. People make friends online all of the time now. Several people I know have found true love over the Internet. But... losing one's soul through social networking, letting your life fly by while you're snapping and posting pictures of how cool your feet look in those new boots will be, forget the bad, extremely sad.