I have written and proceeded to trash a few posts about the sometimes shocking self-centeredness and shameless self-promotion that I have seen coming out all around me. These posts have centered more or less around social media and the internet itself, complete with rhetorical questions about whether Facebook has made people more self-centered and prone to exaggerating their qualifications or accomplishments than ever, or if it merely is a platform for self-centered people to do their thing. The only thing that I think I have figured out is that the combination is harmful to my friendships, my sanity, and ultimately to those to whom these people try to prove their own importance.
If you think about it, at least some self-centeredness is the basic model of social media. You are writing about yourself and expecting people to care. I would venture to guess that for many of us, we keep it in some amount of check. I am sure I am guilty of kid picture overload or some post that has made my friends roll their eyes (or worse, and probably deserved). And yes, every decade or so I am doing something exciting, like seeing my favorite artist in concert or taking my kid to Disneyworld, so yes, I the hypocrite may have been bragging. I will claim as mitigation that it wasn’t on purpose, but still.
But it almost is without fail…. The snort, the groan, or the occasional string of profanities that comes when I do my morning or evening check of social media. It simply boggles my mind how certain people post. Some of them are just annoying. Like those who really seem to think there are people invested in knowing what they ate for breakfast or how many cups of coffee they had by 7 a.m. I hide a lot of those people, because even if I really like them IRL, that is several minutes per day that I can’t get back, and if they are people I will see at school or work or in the neighborhood, I am afraid the incessant posting will make me like them less.
Then there are the braggers. Home team in the Superbowl or the World Series? Of course they have tickets. Of course they will post about the tickets. There also seems to be an inverse relationship between bragging about the tickets and offering any of their poor peasant friends an extra ticket. And how do these people get to these events? Why, in their new cars that their spouses bought them, just for being them. It is like those awful holiday season commercials come to life, except that you know this person. And I would venture to guess, even if you are financially comfortable (or doing better financially than said friend) or at least not living paycheck to paycheck, not only does this make you ill, but you mind wanders to the mutual friend who has been out of work for two years and whose husband’s new business venture barely pays the mortgage. Can the bragger think for two seconds about the impact that the post will have on those struggling to make ends meet? I guess not, if brag = self-centered.
Then we have the people who take great pride in writing about how they have done their jobs for which they are paid. In my house, this doesn’t qualify as news. I work hard, for which I am compensated. And I am pretty sure I have never used the fact that I work hard and get paid as any sort of basis upon which to make other people feel crappy about their jobs. I wish I could say the same for many people in my newsfeed. Most of my friends never have done that to me, or done anything beyond venting about what I agree are very hard, often underpaid jobs. But then there is Facebook Teacher (or insert your own laudible job held by bitter Facebook friend). Facebook Teacher is up every night grading papers, making lesson plans, and shaping the youth of tomorrow while the rest of us are sleeping or watching TV …or so say their bitter posts. Now I know many of them legitimately are up late doing all of these things, but why must some make the dig that anyone with a “better” job isn’t doing something similarly productive after 5 p.m.? Last I checked, most careers don’t let you leave the office at 5 p.m. or leave the office at the office. And last time I checked, all of these things were PART OF THE JOB THAT SHE IS COMPLAINING ABOUT. Why the medal for doing your job? This of course can be generalized to other jobs where people feel compelled to call out that they are working late at night or doing something extra – something that may well help further their career or help others (speaking at conferences, organizing school events) – but all with the underlying, bitter assumption that the rest of us are all off on a drunk. And if we, too, are up working … you know, us awful people with the overpaid office jobs? Well, such is the life for those of us who supposedly picked cushier, less meaningful jobs.
And that gets us closer to the self-centered craziness that does precede many a Facebook click on the “hide” button (or a vacation from Facebook altogether) … the “my job is more important than all of yours” posts … I get annoyed enough when it starts there. My MD friends may be able to claim that objectively, for example. But most of them don’t, which is why we are friends. But when your friend with an “important” job goes past carrying on how important her job to how unimportant yours is, that is where you may want to call her out on it, or just call it, as in the friendship. Because from there, it is a hop, skip and jump is to how important SHE is, versus her vocation. And that is where I can’t defend even the closest of friends anymore – especially when I realize that we can’t be that close if she thinks her contribution to the world is so much more important.
This is where self-centeredness goes too far and accountablity starts to fail. As much as I would love to smack your friend for saying how much more important her job is than yours, she isn’t just insulting you. She is, at best, exaggerating her own importance. And in this day and age, the attention seeker who wants the world to regard her as the reigning expert in her field has, in my opinion, an easier time doing it. Social media gives the stage. If she wants to talk about how she is the “the first [teacher/nurse/physiatrist/scientist]” to [fill in the blank – “teach a community in Africa how to create a clean water well” or “teach yoga and reproductive health to girls in remote villages in India” are sort of real life examples], there is a status update waiting to be typed up, or a blog telling you at length how she saved the world by [insert what she allegedly did]. And then, is someone really going to comment and say,” well actually, Joe Smith did that last year?” Probably not. At best, no one will comment, but chances are, she will have at least a few people commenting on how amazing she is. And thus it begins.
Now here, I was going to say, so long as she isn’t misrepresenting her qualifications or expertise … but sadly this often goes hand in hand with unsubstantiated comments. Short of illegal use of titles like “Doctor” (which also unfortunately goes without people being caught and sanctioned), people on Facebook talk about these “life changing” events in the context of what they do for a living – and there, education, training and qualifications seem to be optional at best, and greatly exaggerated at worst. When you supposedly have travelled the world spreading the gospel about your work (which really means a long weekend in Canada), and use that as a launch pad to get more business, your self-centeredness is morphing into gross misrepresentations – and even possible violations of the law. Accountability still needs to stand for something, no matter how much you think of yourself and of what you think you truly are capable. Yes, caveat emptor. But when you color the data by overstating your own importance disguised as facts, inevitably you can fool even the most careful client. Unfortunately, many of these self centered, self proclaimed experts prey on vulnerable populations. People with chronic pain or illness, for example, may be swayed by a “the first acupunturist who ever treated patients with disease X in Eastern Europe.” A grieving widow may fall prey to a “grief coach” who may be good at organizing donations for Goodwill but has no training beyond a college psychology class in how to help her.
So, going back to who cares, we all should. We all must tolerate a little bragging here and there. But when someone with an inflated sense of self-importance uses the tools of the internet and social media to make himself seem more important or accomplished to others, that puts others at risk. And even if you can’t care about that, you should care enough not to spend your energy competing to see whose job is more important or who is better at her job. If you are not exploiting others, or even putting down others to lift yourself up, you are the winner, no matter how much expertise your so called friend claims to have. For better or worse, you are becoming an expert in realizing which of your self-centered, self-promoting friends are not worthy of the time they make you nuts. Could you try to talk to one of these friends and get the behavior under control? Well, that could be another path to ending the friendship. Interacting with the self-centered person who has spun out of control is the subject for a whole other post. Because I am the first person ever to figure out how to deal with self-centered people on social media AND in real life.
And if you believe that, I have a friend to whom I can refer you who cured diabetes in Cuba because she once went to Florida (close enough, right?) and didn’t drink orange juice, and then was the first person to tell people that not drinking juice lowers their blood sugar.