Flashback to Sunday, May 12, 2013. It’s Mother’s Day. You wake up and go about your morning routine: coffee, breakfast, Facebook, in that order. Half-conscious, you are still able to punch out your username and password and begin mechanically scrolling through your news feed. Everything’s pretty standard. A vacation photo here. A link to the New York Times there.
But wait. What’s this? Jessica just posted a Pic-Stitched photo centered around the words “World’s Best Mom.” And look, Kyle was up an hour ago to write an essay about how he “loves his mom so much because she’s such an inspiration.” You scroll down some more. Maria has changed her profile picture to her hugging her mother with the caption, “She’s always been there for me <3.” Directly below, George and his mom are laughing hysterically in a photo of them giving each other bunny ears. You anxiously take one last sip of coffee for good measure. With hunched back and furrowed brow, you set off crafting your own photo-status combo professing your love for your mother. Not because she’ll appreciate the social media attention. Nah, your mom might not even have Facebook, so she probably won’t see it. And not because you’re determined to convince your friends once and for all, beyond all discourse, that your mom is indeed the best mom in the world, no ifs ands or buts about it. That’s a futile battle that can’t be won.
Who is this post for then? Why are we and drafting accolades to our mother for people who probably don’t give a damn? To answer these questions, we need to examine the evidence that we’re living in an age of narcissism.
It’s not difficult to observe the manifestations of our generation’s (nicknamed Generation Me) obsession with individualism, which, if left unchecked, can lead to some very blatant demonstrations of self-absorption. We all take turns being the victims and perpetrators of shameless self-promotion of all things mundane in our lives via the Internet, from selfies of us on the toilet to status updates about feeling “slantyface” because our feet hurt. Sure, you could argue that these are inevitable side effects of growing up in an era when tech development grows at the speed of light and that previous generations would have used this technology in the same manner, but the phenomenon of fixating on individualism runs deeper than that.
Members of the Millennial Generation, made up of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s (us), devote a gargantuan amount of time and energy into maintaining an attitude of being unique. The clothes we buy, the music we listen to, the events we attend and even the food we eat — a huge portion of us make these consumption decisions, whether consciously or not, to stand out. Many of us lack the community-based relationships and interactions that were invaluable to members of past generations, whose personal identities were linked at least in part with family, religious groups or neighbors.
It’s a classic dilemma of the chicken or the egg. Has the permeating theme of our generation, the yearning to be original (usually chased through some measure of material goods), alienated us from feeling part of greater community? Or has alienation from a greater community herded us into this position? Regardless, we think there’s a correlation that’s worthy of discussion.
Following our generation’s individualistic modes of thinking, we Millennials strive toward common goal of self-actualization. We study, work, volunteer, diet, exercise, socialize, dress and shop to be the “best possible versions of ourselves” we can be. More often than not (and, of course, there are always caveats) our romanticized reveries of who we can become are equated with how much money or fame we can obtain. This would be fine if it didn’t have to come with the expense of neglecting to improve something greater than us — namely, the societies we live in.
In fact an online Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reports that Millennials (born 1982 to 2000) are more civically and politically disengaged, more concerned with materialistic values and less interesting in helping the larger community than were Generation X (born 1962 to 1981) and the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to about 1961) when they were our age.
These ideas were reaffirmed in a study conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute in partnership with the University of Michigan. The study surveyed more than 9 million high school seniors or rising college freshmen from 1966 to present, and the findings were enlightening. The proportion of students who said being wealthy was very important to them increased with each successive generation, from 45 percent for Baby Boomers to 70 percent for Generation X to 75 percent for Millennials.
An opposite trend was true for students who felt being politically fluent was worthwhile. The percentage who said it was important to keep up to date with political affairs fell from 50 percent for Boomers to 39 percent for Gen X and 35 percent for Millennials. Of course, we recognize that the Millennials’ focus on individualism has helped reduce instances of prejudice based on race, gender and sexual orientation.
However, for a generation that prides itself on being more socially conscious, we have made little improvement in realms like protecting the environment, volunteerism and general concern for helping the larger community. Checkmate, hipsters. We’ve found something more ironic than your T-shirts.
Image Source: Christopher Michel under Creative Commons