Sometimes you get a rare glimpse of the future in a single fleeting moment. It is at this instant that you lose your innocence, your distorted vision of reality shatters and you wake up to the hard realization of what the truth is. Years afterwards, you remember this momentous occassion as one of those defining moments: “What were you doing when…” The date remains etched in your memory. Forever will you split your life into two periods, the one before the juncture and the one after.
At last it all becomes clear and you gain a deep insight into the state of civilization and its future direction. You have finally seen the object that defines the era that you will live in, the single item that stands above the rest.
A moment like this happened to me last weekend. Forever will I remember the day when I became aware of this wondrous gadget, the day when I learned of the existence of the greatest invention of the modern age, the selfie-stick!
How My Shocking New Discovery Came About
My world will never be the same ever again. It all started off so innocently…
As for most people, Friday night is the first night of my weekend. Work finally ended and I tried to make plans with people to go out. I learned that a few of my friends were sitting outside of a bar on a square close to where I live. I decided to join them.
I came a bit later, after they have already had a few beers and so the mood when I arrived was festive. I quickly joined into the conversations. We ordered a few beers and went on to order some more. As it got later in the night we turned to discussing more cultural topics. We discussed work, politics, and other things. Little did I know that this conversation was going to forever change my view of the world.
I have never understood why people have a need to take selfies, update their facebook status or check-in at places. One of my friends was about to do a “check-in” on Facebook at the bar and I made a short comment on that.
This started off a small discussion on selfies, status updates and checking-in.
That is also the first time I heard the “word” mentioned for the first time. There was a girl sitting to my right and she volunteered that one of the friends sitting to my left had gotten a selfie-stick for his birthday.
“What?” I was puzzled. “A selfie stick? What is a selfie-stick?”
The friend to my left reached into his bag and took out something that looked like a handle and a thing at the end for grabbing. He proceeded to mount his camera on it, extend the handle and with the camera facing him, snapped a few pictures of his head.
I was dumbfounded. It was as if all thoughts in my brain had been erased and I was left with only one question floating around in my head: “Why?”
Why would you do that? Why would you take a selfie, but more importantly why would you buy a device to better enable you to take selfies?
Who are the people who do this? What has possessed them to do this? I was feeling a total disconnect from what we call “civilization” these days. Is this what it has come down to? All progress from the invention of the wheel, to the printing press, to Copernicus and Galileo fighting for the truth, to science making great discoveries has led to this… to the selfie-stick? Is this the pinnacle of modern civilization?
I had finally lost my innocence.
The Dawn Of A New Economy
Time magazine has recently published a list of the greatest inventions of the year 2014. It includes wireless electricity, the fusion reactor, and the selfie-stick…
What we are doing now is creating a whole economy centered around narcissism and self-vanity. There is a huge ecosystem to sustain the entire lifecycle of human attention whoring. You have the Facebook status update, Foursquare, Instagram; you even have an app to help you send nude pics of yourself, Snapchat. We have finally discovered the Holy Grail of life, sexting.
As a society, we have taken attention whoring and instant gratification to a whole new level.
According to statistics, the past two days produced more information, than all the information that has ever been produced between the dawn of civilization and the year 2013!
That is a staggering number, one that is almost impossible to comprehend. It would be great if this was real knowledge. Sadly it is not so. Most of that information is not “information” in the sense of knowledge obtained from investigation, but instead user-generated content, things like pictures, instant messages, or status updates.
We get bombarded everyday with notifications of check-ins, selfies, and pointless status updates.
This is a symptom of the values that are held dear today and the morals of society. And all this just drives itself, the more status updates and selfies are produced, the more people create an internal need to produce them. This ends up feeding a never ending loop, which keeps on growing bigger and more pointless.
How The Brain Works
In order to understand why and how this is happening, we need to examine the central decision making organ of our bodies, the brain.
Recent scientific research has proven that our brain is not static, as was originally thought, but is malleable and can be changed. This phenomenon is called brain plasticity. Our brain expands, shrinks and changes due to outside stimuli, such as changes in behavior, and what is happening in our environment.
Now that you understand that the brain is not a static organ, but instead one that changes due to outside influences, imagine what an environment of user-generated content overload can have on the average human. Not a pretty picture is it?
We live in an instant gratification society. Actually making an effort has gone the way of the dodo. Most people today do whatever is easy and just don’t have the capacity to put a bit of work into anything. It is as if everyone suddenly got ADD.
It is not as if selfish and narcissistic behavior did not exist before. Human nature has stayed constant for a long time now, but instead in today’s world bad habits have spread to a larger segment of society. Throughout history, if you wanted to be an attention whore or engage in instant gratification, you had to do it with other people
This social disconnect from society started with the Walkman and headphones and just gets worse every day. Instead of talking with each other, people are engaging with technology more and more, living virtual lives.
The situation keeps on deteriorating over time. Studies show that instant gratification behavior and heavy smart phone and internet use are changing the brains of people quite rapidly.
There are two main theories on what is happening in the brain with instant gratification. Both of these theories point to dopamine as the main culprit in this. What they differ in is the role of dopamine in the brain.
According to the first and older theory, all this constant simulation and easy access to pleasure activates dopamine cells in the pleasure center of the brain, making them go into overdrive.
Once you have this easy access to “pleasure”, you become immune to other types of pleasure and the brain starts craving more and more instant gratification, forgetting to get turned on from traditional sources of pleasure.
There is however a newer theory on the role of dopamine cells in the brain. Older research associates them with pleasure, but newer research links them only to the “promise” of pleasure.
So according to these newer theories, when dopamine cells are released, you are not experiencing pleasure, but instead only a promise of pleasure. This promise of pleasure is supposed to act as a way to encourage you to do the current activity, because back in the day, when you had a promise of pleasure, you actually did end up receiving real feelings of bliss.
With the prominence of instant gratification, dopamine gets released, but since the activity that is associated with it does not result in any real pleasure, people get hooked on fake promises. Instead of doing activities that are beneficial to them, they just end up empty inside.
Forgetting To Read Human Emotions
There is also another effect that constantly living in the virtual world can create. It can make you forget how to read human emotions. A person addicted to all this constant simulation forgets how to read other people, doesn’t know how to connect and real life interactions become hard for them.
People become literally addicted to their smart phone. They forget how to process complex information and instead rely on short snippets of bombastic news to get their kicks.
That’s why reality television has such a pull for certain people. It is easy. You don’t have to think. The only thing you have to do is push a few buttons. The effect is that a person who watches too much reality TV has a distorted view of reality. The shows place a heavy emphasis on superficiality, which then becomes the standard behavior in the real world too.
People on reality TV do stupid things and there are no consequences for them. They in fact become popular and get lots of money. This then is reflected in the real world. Actors, sports stars, “celebrities” become the role models of people, while people with real jobs get looked down upon.
The more mentally disturbed these people are, the more followers and fans they have. Drama sells and being a normal, mentally healthy hard-working person with real goals is not sexy enough for the instant-gratification seeking, lazy masses.
Scientific studies show that the self-reported empathy levels among university students have been in a steep decline since the 1970s. The levels of empathy are 40% lower than they were in the 1970s, but on the other hand the levels of narcissism have skyrocketed. Part of this is most likely due to the decline of the teaching of moral values, but part is also due to the rise of technology.
Changes in technology are helping to create a generation of selfish, air-headed people with attention deficit disorders. Technology itself is positive, however coupled with the fact that most people have really weak willpower and screwed up morals, a vicious loop is created that perpetuates a society where no one produces anything or thinks about the future and everyone just wants to “enjoy the moment”.
This type of effect is not producing happy people, quite the contrary. Depression rates are rising among people, reaching astronomical numbers. People are more disconnected from other people and this is one of the main culprits in everyone being depressed.
Humans are social animals and this rise of instant self-gratification behavior and social disconnect from real people is quite a problem. People don’t talk to other people anymore. Scientific studies show that connecting with others increases happiness in the individual, but unfortunately the tendency in today’s society is to shun others and instead withdraw to your own little world.
You Need To Do Things Differently
This is the perfect way to pissing away your life and not achieving anything. I am using harsh words here, but they are needed for added emphasis. People engaging in this type of behavior end up living sad, unfulfilled lives, which do not lead anywhere.
They know their lives are sad and they complain a lot, but keep on continuing in their self-destructive ways. I have tried hard to convert them to the right path, but it has proven hopeless.
You yourself have to be convinced that you do not want to live that way and be committed to change and live differently. That is the first step. If you want to start on the path of becoming a Renaissance Man, improving yourself and achieving your goals, then you need to have this internally clear in your head.
I know you have what it takes though. You made it to the end of the article. Congratulations! That makes you part of the top 5% percentile of internet users. Yes, that’s right! A few years ago, an internet traffic analytics company did a study and found that 5% is exactly the percentage of people who actually finish an article after starting to read it. Most people just skim articles, just like they skim life.
So you are already way ahead of the rest of the pack. You just need to take that mental focus and apply it to the rest of your life.
Keeping a steady course in a world full of distractions is a hard task. It will require a lot of your energy and willpower, but at the end it will be worth it. This type of drive is a prerequisite to making something of yourself, to achieving success.
While all those mindless drones are updating their Facebook status, you can spend that time more wisely. You will make it somewhere, while everyone else will most likely get distracted along the way.