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.
Will we figure out what it means to be grownups in social media?
Or will we remain infantilised kidults?
A Decade of Novelty Wears Off
I turned 30 in 2009, and I’ve spent the last decade experiencing a social media universe dominated by teens and 20-somethings. Sure, new trends are exciting, but still.
I’ve found some enjoyment in seeing otherwise mature, intelligent, and middle-aged friends do duckface selfies in front of their bathroom mirrors—or weirdly flexing about their latest bicycle session.
But such novelties eventually wears off, too.
I’m beginning to think that we’re a generation of adults who doesn’t know what it means to be grownups on social media.
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 are trying way too hard to impress others by self-promoting their personal life choices. Others just opt out; they go quiet.
In the well-cited article The Infantilisation of the Postmodern Adult and the Figure of Kidult, Jacopo Bernardini concludes:
“Being young today is no longer a transitory stage, but rather a choice of life, 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.”
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.
What to look out for: When people get easily offended, especially on behalf of others.
Level 2: Emotional Honesty
Level 2 maturity means that you understand your feelings and have the necessary coping mechanisms to allow for your 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.
What to look out for: 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.
What to look out for: 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 in clearly communicating your emotional needs with those who care about you.
People who haven’t yet reached this level of maturity tend to be fearful of asking others to respect their emotional needs.
What to look out for: When people allow others to make them feel bad but are incapable of setting whatever boundaries they need.
Level 5: Emotional Understanding
Level 5 maturity means that 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, beliefs that stem from ideas or principles, not genuine emotions.
What to look out for: When people are trying too hard to project a self-image, that isn’t true and only makes them feel worse.
Level 6: Emotional Detachment
Level 6 maturity means that 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 still to defend or promote.
What to look out for: When people can’t truly appreciate living in a world where people make each other feel both 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. Simon Gottschalk, professor of Sociology, University of Nevada, writes:
“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.”
John Mellkvist, a Swedish PR consultant and futurist, is on a personal quest to raise awareness that the older part of the workforce is being constantly undervalued.
For instance, Mellkvist is pushing local industry media to list “50 over 50” as a counterweight to all listings of junior marketing- and PR rockstars. I support his work wholeheartedly, of course, but I can’t help but react against the absolute absurdity of underestimating professionals with tons of experience and robust networks.
Why shouldn’t we, too, be confident enough to shape social media to better reflect our generations?
The Selfie Generation and Maturity
I think of my behaviour in social media as I ponder the varying levels of emotional maturity amongst 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.
“Industrial civilisation is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning.”
― Aldous Huxley
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:
But first, let me take a selfie.