The PR BlogPR TrendsOnline SubculturesThe Selfie Generation: An Epidemic of Online Narcissism

The Selfie Generation: An Epidemic of Online Narcissism

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

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

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.

I wonder:

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, and middle-aged friends do duckface selfies in front of their bathroom mirrors—or weirdly flexing about their latest bicycle session.

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

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’m beginning to think that we’re a generation of adults who doesn’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

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 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.

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 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.

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 that stem from ideas or principles, not genuine emotions.

What to look out for: 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 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 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 tons of experience and robust networks.

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

The Selfie Generation and Maturity

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.

Read also: What Remains of the Xennial Generation?

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:

  • 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.

Thank you for reading this article. Please consider supporting my work by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals. For questions or PR support, contact me via [email protected].

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.


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