I was reading a Bruce Feldman article recently about the perils of social media for athletes when it hit me: the internet has made us all narcissistic.
Think about it. Whether it’s twitter or facebook or leaving comments on blogs, those of us who’ve grown of age in the online world tend to have a certain degree of insecurity that constantly leads us back to investing too much time in what goes on online. Like the Brad Paisley song, we fancy ourselves as “so much cooler online,” to the point where we’re willing to reduce ourselves to high school-like gossip, behind the back email forwarding, and even hateful attacks — all just in the name of boosting ourselves or “our world” to a point of self-promotion which allows us to feel good. We’re way too into ourselves. In what we think. In where we are. In what we eat. In what we observe and how we choose to ”enlighten” others. Don’t believe me? Just ask yourself; when was the last time you checked back on a webpage just to see if another anonymous user agreed with you or didn’t on a comment you made?
I see it in myself and I see it all the time in bloggers who – and let’s not pretend we haven’t all done it at some point – act with all the arrogance of some holier-than-you attitude because of a sharp wit or sniping ability in an online debate. Truth be told, by writing this you could make a case I’m doing exactly what I’m criticizing, although, for the sake of trying to make an eventual point, I hope that won’t preclude you from hearing me out.
I bring all this up because since 2012 began I’ve done two thing which, after six years of blogging, were very difficult for me to do. I left my safety nets as a writer, and in calling it quits on a very popular food blog as well as the one sports media website I currently still wrote for, I took away constants in my life which had, for far too long, dictated what I was doing in real life.
I also took away the two things people most identified me with, and which I identified myself with. That, you could say, is stepping off some kind of a deep end.
I hope, in whatever journey you’re on in life, that you’re starting to get my drift. Writing for the two websites and doing all that was asked of me — as well as things which were not asked of me by others, but which I asked, and demanded, of myself — had ceased being fun. It wasn’t making me happy, and once more, it was too often affecting how I dealt with people when I tried to live in the real world. Allowing the narcissistic ”me” I was able to isolate online take over, I began to demand certain things of others, arguing with people for no other reason than I had become so use to arguing with people online.
But in stepping off the deep-end and stepping away from my computer over the last few weeks, I’ve learned and experienced several things. One, I’ve learned that people — whether they think differently or believe differently than you — are generally receptive to anyone with a smile on their face. Two, I’ve learned I like keeping a smile on my face, and that in stepping away from the dirt-flinging of the online world, keeping those smiles on my face is easier. Three, I’ve learned that being a part-time ice cream man and volunteer at my church and local library makes me happy. And if it makes you happy, it can’t be so bad, right?
(Ok, obviously not 100% right. Actions have consequences — like twinkies, which make me happy, but would eventually kill me if I indulged my guilty pleasure of take and bake twinkie pizzas for every meal. But as for activities that are largely beneficial to others in society, well, that’s far from twinkie hedonism.)
I don’t know what your background is, but I know that mine has left me with a feeling that my identity has always been tied to what goes on online. It’s where my first jobs came from, and it’s where my first pats on the backs came from. But it’s also where I’ve forgotten to see the good in the world and in others, and become too consumed with the image I’ve been portraying. I know it’ll take time, but saying goodbye to that kind of lifestyle — in any of our cases — might just bring us to the kind of happiness that really breeds identity.
I’ll still be blogging. Here, and elsewhere. My interest in discussing whatever new cereal or Canadian candy I’ve found isn’t going to diminish, nor will my impulse to find and share the stories in the world I experience suddenly disappear.
But I’ll also be living in the real world. Giving up the internet for a week while I do some Habitat for Hamanity work in Louisiana, helping trace the genealogy of visitors to our Historical Society, and yes, serving ice cream and being “the old guy” to the high school students working with me at Rita’s. What can I say, it makes me happy to see other people happy, and makes me smile to see other people smile.
And that is worth more than any “likes” I get on a status updates, or comments praising the reporting I’ve done in some dumb blog post.