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Monday, January 14, 2019

THE SOCIAL MEDIA BRAG: We Are All Stuart Smalley Now

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"Cause I'm worth it!" "Cause I'm worth it!"

Status Update: I’m about to rip on social media.

But before I begin, let me take a selfie so you all can visualize my angst…

audrey selfie

Katherine Hepburn, right? I know, I get that all the time. Or is it Audrey… I don’t know. But you know what, who cares? It’s some person who didn’t know Snapchat from Snapdragon, and so must have been culturally irrelevant.  She didn’t have a Facebook page, much less an iPhone, so we don’t even know what her coffee drinks looked like, much less if she was any good at hiking and yoga and swimming and tanning and hashtags and Instagram and hanging with her girlfriends. LOSER.

But, seriously, whatever happened to bragging being bad form? We’re all human. We like it when people notice. But when you have to tell them to notice—get right up in their faces and demand it--isn’t that just a little awkward?

My grandfather called them blowhards; today they’re called bloggers.  

Anyway, it used to be socially awkward when people went fishing for compliments. Now it’s all we do; one, long fishing trip after another.  And when the fish stop biting, we change the bait—the ubiquitous profile pic—and start all over again.


It’s a desperate competition for attention on social media, there’s no denying that fact. It ranges from the mundane to the positively ludicrous, and the following exercise will help you recognize the difference:

Imagine sitting down opposite your friend at a restaurant and saying: “Today I was watering the garden and the hose sprung a leak all over my pants!”

That’s one thing. It’s a self-deprecating little anecdote and if it ends up online, whatever. Still might be a little cry for attention if you feel the need to post that sort of thing online, but that type of status update is not why I’m writing this.

I’m writing about the following:

Imagine now you sat down with your friend and suddenly blurted out: “My Faith absolutely defines me because I’m nearing the seventh castle of spirituality, but I also need to let my creative streak shine!”

What the…? Imagine the look on your friend’s face. “Umkay… you do you, Pumpkin.”

You would have utterly embarrassed yourself. So how come when we post the same sentence online, we’re not embarrassed? We’re arguably the most self-conscious morons in history, but we can’t cyber-blush.

We all know the girl in the second scenario. In fact, we know many; our feeds are littered with posts like this:

“I just realized during this journey that with all my philanthropic writing and posting I forgot to make time for myself. I matter, even though I put my needs aside at all times in order to be a force for good, but… maybe it’s time, for your benefit as well as mine, of course, that I carve out some me time. In 2019, I’m going to take more meaningful swims in Lake Me!”

Her “About Me” goes something like:

“I like movies! And walks in the rain! My friends call me spunky, sassy and glamorous lolz! I enrich the lives of those around me by doing hair and makeup tutorials on my vlog! I’m a ‘Beau-tuber’ because I YouTube beauty Lol!”

She’s even got the results of one of those personality quizzes that were so popular in the early 2000s: “I’m loving, complex, and amazing! I’m also most like the Disney character Belle because I’m extremely susceptible to Stockholm syndrome LOL!”

Oh boy, take a number if you want to know what Spunky’s going to say next!

basic bitch

My generation calls this girl “basic b*tch”, which aside from being terrifyingly apropos, may be the most astute observation we’ve come up with so far.

And LOL simply MUST come after everything we chat, tweet and post. It has replaced the period, in fact. Why? Because way down deep inside we know we’re acting like a basic…well, we’re acting, and so we need the LOL to provide cover.  “If you call out my BS I will fall back on my LOL. Just kidding. You know I’m self-indulging like a drunk bohemian so I must be LOLing like any normal person should.”

It’s LOL when a 28-year-old’s resume can be easily mistaken for a 13-year-old’s Myspace page. We’ve become a caricature and, for that matter, a SNL character:

It was comedy back then. Today it’s Facebook.

I guess we think we’re “worth it”, but it really wasn’t that long ago when people used to LOL at delusional folks who thought they were so “worth it” that they could tell it to the world.

For those of you who still laugh at Stuart, here’s a serious question: When was the last time you commented favorably on a friend’s status update, and meant it? When your basic, um, gal pal posted that before-and-after hair pic, or the song lyrics that were supposed to make her seem deep, or the life goals that included ‘hugging puppies more’—When you saw that post, did you even sort of care?

No, and why would you? Why would anyone?

cigar selfieHow about when your guy friend tried to wax poetic about the smell of the great outdoors, or prove his macho cred by taking a cigar selfie, or when his Twitter bio read as follows:

“Artist. Author. Philanthropist... Self. Me. I.”

Did you mean it when you hit the Like Button and called him “Bro”? If you did, then it’s worse than Orwell thought.

We all know it’s not really deep, Bro. So, why do so many comments on Facebook and Instagram read something like this:

“You’re just so AMAZING. And so lovably random! You’re a dreamer and you will follow those dreams wherever your giant heart takes you! Let’s celebrate you!”

And not more like:  “Listen, while you’re trying desperately to remind us all how precious you are, some people are dying of cancer…”

Sometimes it’s not the original post that freaks me out as much as the comments do. Why do we respond like we’re buying all that vain, verbal diarrhea?

Maybe we should think about not enabling this kind of psychotic behavior and call it out instead.

What’s most frightening is that people who seem intelligent and accomplished fall just as hard as anyone else. And they slowly morph into “Spunky who is random” without even realizing it. Which is kind of funny, because you’d think if we’re already creating imaginary personas on social media, we wouldn’t choose to go the ultimate ditz route. Why do we have to care about hair color and pumpkin spice lattes just because we’re on social media?

As long as we’re BS-ing anyway, why not go with something a little more bad*ss?

Yet “Spunky who is random” is what most full-grown humans are achieving right now. They're on social media to talk about their fad diets, their hobbies, and their gifts. Why? Tell him, Stu:

Ugh. Does it get any more self-obsessed? Selfishness is a terrible thing. It makes people untrustworthy. When everything a person does has an obviously selfish motive, how do we know they won’t throw us under the bus whenever they want a spike in their likes?

We see it all the time. Good friends one moment, mortal enemies the next. It’s nothing personal, just clickbait.

So, an online persona defined by superficiality and selfishness? How can that be a good thing?

That’s what I see when I poke around in the self-promotion theme park that is Facebook; a whole lot of self-absorbed individuals who can’t be trusted with real-life relationships... They don’t know what it means to be loyal to anything but their own image.

Image result for social media addict

It’s literally Narcissus at his pool; everyone’s obsessed with the projected version of themselves that they’ve crafted from behind their screens, so they keep the screens ever before their eyes, living vicariously through a shadow of their own design.

It’s tragic how quickly most of us got sucked into the frenetic world of reminding everyone that we’re still awesome before our posts get buried by competitors—I mean, friends and followers.

Think about how we got here. There was a time when we didn’t bother people with our mundane daily activities; even a time when bringing up our own accomplishments at the dinner table would leave the family silent and mortified. Did you really think nobody would notice you digging for praise?

Remember? We didn’t even take selfies.

Eventually we started seeing selfies on other people’s Myspace pages, and the first few times we tried it for ourselves we had to turn our flip phones or our clunky Nikons or disposable Kodaks around and hope our whole head was in the shot.

old camera selfie

And even when our phones started coming with front-facing cameras, it was devastatingly embarrassing to be caught in a selfie. But somewhere along the line it became such a habit that we forgot it was shameful and will do it in broad daylight in front of the froyo place. That’s just too bad.

Maybe one of the reasons we succumbed so quickly is because social media personas are much easier to keep up than real-life personas. Instead of actually being good at something, we can count on our followers to stop by and tell us that we’re good at everything (especially since we were only posing with—not using—the equipment when we took that gym selfie).

Image result for scrolling gif

And in return, we’ll dutifully and robotically scroll through our feed and leave “Likes” and empty praise with screen-coma abandon. The muscle memory in our thumbs can find the “reaction buttons” no matter what language the post’s in.

But, whatevs. Right? It’s all good?

No, actually it’s not. What’s happening to us?  Where’d all the adults go?

And trad cats are no exception; sometimes we’re the worst offenders, maybe just because we should know better.  So, why don’t we put on our traddy pants and get it together?  

We can see through this manipulation. We can be different. Can’t we? Catholic adults—yes, even us millennials—can start pushing back against this selfie-fueled popularity contest right now. Sounds like a wonderfully countercultural thing to do. Hipster in the true sense, BYO mustache and mason jar!

I think we can start by cutting down on our status updates. This is actually doable so long as before we post we remember one thing: As much as we don’t actually care about our Facebook friends’ lunch and pedicure color, they don’t care about ours. So, what’s the point of the exercise.

I’ll make you a deal. Sometimes I travel. I like it, but you don’t give a rat’s patootie about my travel (and you shouldn’t). So, I promise never to post vacay pics or ask if anyone can recommend a good café in Paris (READ: I’m here and you’re NOT) if you promise never to post another Throw-Back-Thursday photo of you in high school looking all New Kids on the Block. Nobody cares, except maybe your parents. But really, no matter how many times we hit Like, you’re not a new kid anymore (but it’s okay because you can be other things, like “dignified”).


And let’s not forget that posts run on likes and comments. So, no more reacting unless we mean it. No more giving attention in order to receive attention in return. Let’s try to be a little more self-reliant and a little less self-absorbed.

Otherwise, we might as well just go right ahead and admit to the world that we have a big, gaping hole in our hearts that we’re seeking to fill with affirmation. This is especially important for Catholics to remember, because in a world that’s lost all direction, we’ve been blessed with tools that point the way—but they’re not up there on your toolbar.

Our lives as followers of Jesus Christ and children of God should fill us with the ultimate purpose, and we can rest assured that nothing on social media needs to reaffirm that, nor can it. Jesus said that unless we become as little children we shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. But I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to smear spaghetti sauce all over our faces and eat Tide Pods on our vlogs.

Besides, He was talking about innocence and humility, and I think Facebook has banned all that. I think maybe social media has been making fools of us all along. Whaddya say, peeps—let’s move on.


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Last modified on Monday, January 14, 2019