Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch -- a man who has more than occasionally been accused of self-absorption -- once famously said, "But enough of me. Let's talk about you. What do you think of me?" Honestly, Hizzoner may just have been ahead of his time. In all probability, today he has a giant "Like" button as a doorbell.
The level of navel-gazing that defines our lives today seems to reach new peaks daily.
The irony, of course, is that we practice this form of narcissism with the insistence that we are sharing. News flash: It is not sharing when you post a photo on Facebook of the eggs you ate for breakfast. It is equally not sharing when you ask strangers on Pinterest which couch they think you should buy or show the world on Instagram which pair of Christian Louboutins you hope to one day afford. Sharing comes at a deeper level and involves people you actually know. If you want to tell a friend about your troubles in the bedroom, fine. But why on Earth would you want to discuss it with a bunch of anonymous strangers on Reddit?
Don't get me wrong. Spending time doing all those things may be amusing and is probably, on some mind-numbing level, relaxing. But it isn't engagement and it isn't sharing. Mostly what it is is narcissism. You want me to "like" your breakfast eggs. Even with that, it's still all about you.
While no generation holds the patent on how to share -- and I actively follow a "live-and-let-live" course of judgment -- it's still troubling to knock heads with what seems to be the new normal of how we treat one another: rudely, meanly, and at times, with such hostility that you're left wishing Noah had invited only one of each species on board. And at the root of that nastiness is how we share -- how we connect to one another. I fear that being "in a texting relationship" may soon be a new Facebook status.
For me, sharing is when you make the time to meet for coffee or we pick up the phone to call and chat. It's when we meet at a party and you are interested in having an actual conversation instead of constantly checking your smartphone to see if anyone has texted you a photo of where they are -- maybe in case it's better? Sharing is when you slow down the online connection, listen, engage and be present instead of looking around the corner at what's coming up next.
There may be a reason why we have such a hard time sharing the old-fashioned way.
"Without face-to-face communication, online communicators can create the idealized version of themselves," wrote Courtney F. Turnbull in a 2010 paper for Elon University called "Mom Just Facebooked Me and Dad Knows How to Text." She examined the differences in interpersonal relationships of how Generation Yers and Baby Boomers used computer-mediated communication. She wrote:
"Baby Boomers have used computer-mediated [communication] to their advantage, increasing their quality of interpersonal relationships with long emails to their friends and family. Generation Y members, on the other hand, have decreased their quality of interpersonal relationships, making things quick and to the point, losing out on communication depth, which leads to ambiguities and possibly interpersonal conflict due to misunderstandings."
Turnbull's findings dovetail nicely with what Sherry Turkle, author of "Alone Together," found.
Turkle, a leading media commentator on the social and psychological effects of technology, wrote that technology "makes it easy to communicate when we wish and to disengage at will." It's a modern version of letting the call go to voicemail when the caller ID says it's your ex on the other end of the line. We can cut off the texting exchange at will, and since even the fastest flying thumbs will tire out, exchanges are reduced to their simplest and shortest forms.
I don't get it. I see people so busy tweeting the plot twists and dialogue of what they are simultaneously watching on TV or posting cute kitten pictures on Facebook that they just don't have any time or gas left in the tank to pay attention to their brick-and-mortar friends. It seems we have substituted real relationships and communication with our public image and personal "brand." Is it somehow more satisfying to be clever for the strangers of Twitter instead of the real people who are standing in front of you?
As for good old Ed Koch and his prescient need to be on center stage, I just checked out his Facebook page: He has 1,387 Facebook Likes and just three friends. I rest my case.