Monday, June 4, 2012
We're living in the golden age of narcissism. Never before have so many been so in love with themselves.
At the risk of sounding like an old man railing at invisible birds in the trees, I blame the digital age. Free speech has been won, at the sacrifice of composure, dignity, and what used to be known at one time as "class." Everywhere, internet denizens are falling all over themselves to... well, fall all over themselves.
We've got thrillseekers crawling over each other's dying bodies to get to the top of a mountain - an achievement which apparently no longer requires technical skill to achieve, only money - so that they can "tweet" this achievement to the world.
We've got psychopaths who may never have realized their inglorious potential had they never been exposed to the internet. I'm no psychologist, but please hear me out. The notorious Russell Williams lived the first thirty-plus years of his life as a model military man, never committing a criminal offence till a relatively advanced age. Where did he discover the kink that set him off? The internet. What did he like to do with his victims? Take photographs, which thanks to digital technology could be self-published. Remember when someone else had to develop your photos for you? (I do.) Had he come along before the digital age, no Russell Williams.
Similarly, the just-convicted child rapist and murderer Michael Rafferty. Surely, an unsavoury character in so many aspects, but whatever took him down the path of desiring sex with a child? The internet. The fact is, whatever dark hole there may be in your soul, there's someone else out there who has a similar one, and the internet is where you and that other freak can meet and compare notes.
So naturally it had to come to this. A supremely narcissistic performer who escalated from strange writings to animal torture to a majestic performance of murder and cannibalism, enacted for his adoring public. Don't believe he acted alone. In discussion with a friend regarding this story this past weekend, my friend told me of someone they knew - a normal person - who sought out the video online and watched it. They said it was horrible.
But they watched the thing anyway.
What the hell is wrong with us?
I never fail to be amazed at the blatant honesty of the Youtube slogan - "Broadcast yourself." Yes, it's your right. Your opportunity. When did it become a demand of you? When did your participation become obligatory?
Worst, narcissism eventually filters to every level of social media. Sure, it's just a big conversation, and every conversation has always included people who just say "Hey, have you heard of this?" just as well as people who say "Hey, look at me!" But the "look at me's" are shouting to be heard and seen and noticed over one another now. And no one bothers to object to the "look at me's" anymore, because their behaviour is expected now.
So what's the risk? What's the harm? The same old thing it always has been... you may end up killing the thing you love. You may eventually lose your digital freedom. Because the more the "look at me" people infect the culture streams, the more clogged the arteries become. When facebook becomes more like LinkedIn, and LinkedIn becomes more like spam e-mail... and next thing you know, the people you think are friends are the ones spamming you (which is happening already, by the way)... well, I suppose everyone will find the next hot thing to do, and move on to that.
Long ago, I studied computer programming. I was good at it. But I wasn't as dedicated to it as the supreme geeks were, so I moved on to other things. Had someone told me then, "no computers aren't just going to be used for information processing, they're going to become a household's primary source of entertainment", well, I'd have thought differently.
Had they told me, "and you can video yourself microwaving a cat"...
Jesus, we've still got a lot of work to do. May I respectfully suggest that we start with that whole "dignity" thing again?
I'm done now.