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The Selfie Generation: An Epidemic of Online Narcissism

Searching for sanity in a maelstrom of immature clickbait and humblebrags.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Will we forever remain the Selfie Generation?

I love social media—just not all of it.

I could do without motiv­a­tion­al quotes, bath­room selfies, impossible ping-pong trick shots, wing­tip sun­sets, Instagram teen mod­els, jet-set life­styles with fil­ter packs, keep­ing up with real­ity super­stars, LinkedIn net­work­ing threads, Tik Tok pranks, butt pos­ing in yoga pants, baby pic­tures, MrBeast, Twitch stream­ers speak­ing in baby voices, man-buns mak­ing per­fect cups of cof­fee, rampant Twitter debates, and snap­shots of feet on beaches.


  • It’s a grow­ing social imbal­ance. Influencers are in your social circles but you’re not in theirs.

Will we fig­ure out what it means to be grownups in social media?
Or will we remain infant­il­ised kidults?

Here goes:

A Decade of Novelty Wears Off

I turned 30 in 2009 and spent the last dec­ade exper­i­en­cing a social media uni­verse dom­in­ated by teens and 20-somethings. Sure, new trends are excit­ing, but still.

I’ve enjoyed see­ing oth­er­wise mature, intel­li­gent, middle-aged friends do duck­face selfies in front of their bath­room mir­rors — or weirdly flex­ing about their latest bicycle session. 

But such nov­el­ties even­tu­ally wear off, too.

Take a selfie, fake a life - The Selfie Generation
The Selfie Generation: Take a selfie, fake a life.

I think we’re a gen­er­a­tion of adults who don’t know what it means to be grownups on social media. 

Read also: Social Media — The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Some take the route of being omni­po­tent multi-experts who are fiercely opin­ion­ated about everything. Others try to save the world by organ­ising them­selves around the cent­ral task of sham­ing oth­ers pub­licly. Some try too hard to impress oth­ers by self-pro­mot­ing their per­son­al life choices. Others opt out; they go quiet.

Being young today is no longer a trans­it­ory stage, but rather a life choice, well estab­lished and bru­tally pro­moted by the media sys­tem. While the clas­sic paradigms of adult­hood and mat­ur­a­tion could inter­pret such infant­ile beha­vi­or as a symp­tom of devi­ance, such beha­vi­or has become a mod­el to fol­low, an ideal of fun and being care­free, present in a wide vari­ety of con­texts of soci­ety. The con­tem­por­ary adult fol­lows a sort of thought­ful imma­tur­ity, a con­scious escape from the respons­ib­il­it­ies of an ana­chron­ist­ic mod­el of life. If an ideal of matur­ity remains, it does not find beha­vi­or­al com­pens­a­tions in a soci­ety where child­ish atti­tudes and adoles­cent life mod­els are con­stantly pro­moted by the media and tol­er­ated by insti­tu­tions.”
— Jacopo Bernardini, The Infantilisation of the Postmodern Adult and the Figure of Kidult

Read also: Online Wannabeism: Why We Mimic Social Media Influencers

6 Levels of Emotional Maturity

But how do we bet­ter under­stand the emo­tion­al matur­ity of the Selfie Generation? In The Secret of Maturity by Kevin Everett FitzMaurice, a matur­ity pro­gres­sion of six steps is outlined.

Level 1: Emotional Responsibility

Level 1 matur­ity means that you under­stand that your feel­ings are your choices. 

People who haven’t yet reached this level of matur­ity tend to blame their feel­ings on extern­al stim­uli, such as oth­er people, places, things, forces, fate, and spirits. 

Beware: When people get eas­ily offen­ded, espe­cially on behalf of others.

Level 2: Emotional Honesty

Level 2 matur­ity means you under­stand your feel­ings and have the cop­ing mech­an­isms to allow for genu­ine emo­tions instead of sup­press­ing them.

People who haven’t yet reached this level of matur­ity tend to hurt them­selves emo­tion­ally because they haven’t yet learned how to cope with their inner emotions. 

Beware: When people pub­licly paint them­selves as vic­tims of their feelings.

Level 3: Emotional Openness

Level 3 matur­ity means that you can be pur­pose­ful in vent­ing your emo­tions with the intent to let them go because you’re done with them.

People who haven’t yet reached this level of matur­ity tend to be insec­ure in know­ing how and when to share their feelings. 

Beware: When people pub­licly over­share to wal­low or are unaware that their shar­ing has the oppos­ite effect than they were aim­ing for.

Level 4: Emotional Assertiveness

Level 4 matur­ity means that you take respons­ib­il­ity for clearly com­mu­nic­at­ing your emo­tion­al needs with those who care about you.

People who haven’t yet reached this matur­ity level tend to fear ask­ing oth­ers to respect their emo­tion­al needs. 

Beware: When people allow oth­ers to make them feel bad but can­not set whatever bound­ar­ies they need.

Level 5: Emotional Understanding

Level 5 matur­ity means you no longer force your­self into ima­gin­ary or con­veni­ent ideas about who you are and what you should feel.

People who haven’t yet reached this level of matur­ity tend to have cer­tain firm beliefs about them­selves that stem from ideas or prin­ciples, not genu­ine emotions. 

Beware: When people try too hard to pro­ject a false self-image, which only makes them feel worse.

Level 6: Emotional Detachment

Level 6 matur­ity means you are detached from your ego, and noth­ing can no longer both­er you bey­ond your control.

People who haven’t yet reached this level of matur­ity tend to have cer­tain self-con­cepts to defend or promote. 

Beware: When people can’t truly appre­ci­ate liv­ing in a world where people make each oth­er feel good and bad about things.

Life Experience and Maturity

Shaping tech­no­logy to favour human­ity will require a size­able dose of matur­ity, char­ac­ter, and life experience. 

To me, it’s just one symp­tom of a broad­er trend of infant­il­isa­tion in Western cul­ture. It began before the advent of smart­phones and social media. But, as I argue in my book “The Terminal Self,” our every­day inter­ac­tions with these com­puter tech­no­lo­gies have accel­er­ated and nor­m­al­ised our culture’s infant­ile tend­en­cies.”
Simon Gottschalk, pro­fess­or of Sociology at the University of Nevada

John Mellkvist, a Swedish PR con­sult­ant and futur­ist, is on a per­son­al quest to raise aware­ness that the “older” work­force is con­stantly undervalued.

John Mellkvist - Selfie Generation
John Mellkvist, a Swedish PR con­sult­ant, is fight­ing against ageism.

For instance, Mellkvist is push­ing loc­al industry media to list “50 over 50” as a coun­ter­weight to all juni­or mar­ket­ing and PR list­ings. I sup­port his work whole­heartedly, of course, but I can’t help but react against the absurdity of under­es­tim­at­ing pro­fes­sion­als with extens­ive exper­i­ence and robust networks.

Why shouldn’t we be con­fid­ent enough to shape social media to reflect our gen­er­a­tion better? 

Read also: What Remains of the Xennial Generation?

The Selfie Generation and Maturity

People want to be loved; fail­ing that admired; fail­ing that feared; fail­ing that hated and des­pised. They want to evoke some sort of sen­ti­ment. The soul shud­ders before obli­vi­on and seeks con­nec­tion at any price.”
— Hjalmar Söderberg (1869−1941), Swedish author

I think of my beha­viour on social media as I pon­der the vary­ing levels of emo­tion­al matur­ity among my peers in the selfie gen­er­a­tion. Getting sucked into a mael­strom of click­bait and humbl­eb­rags is taxing. 

It’s a pecu­li­ar side-effect: online self-pub­lish­ing with zero fric­tion has made it easy to resort to imma­ture and react­ive behaviours. 

A status update with no likes (or a clev­er tweet without retweets) becomes the equi­val­ent of a joke met with silence. It must be rethought and rewrit­ten. And so we don’t show our true selves online, but a mask designed to con­form to the opin­ions of those around us.”
— Neil Strauss, Wall Street Journal

Imagine if we, at least those of us who think of ourselves as adults and who don’t wish to belong to the Selfie Generation any­more, could shift our approach to social media:

  • Meaningful con­nec­tions. Use social media to estab­lish and main­tain genu­ine rela­tion­ships with people that mat­ter to you.
  • Exploratory learn­ing. Use social media with an open mind to learn from oth­er people’s exper­i­ences and insights. 
  • Creativity and use­ful­ness. Use social media to express your­self cre­at­ively and strive to add value to others.

Good stuff.
But first, let me take a selfie.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo has nothing to do with public relations, of course. I share for no other reason that I happen to enjoy photography. Call it an “ornamental distraction”—and a subtle reminder to appreciate nature.

The cover photo has


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