We are obsessed with ourselves. When I say "we" I effectively mean millennials. We invented the selfie, we tell everyone about the amazing things we're doing at any given moment via social media, and the newest addition to our self obsession -- the BuzzFeed quiz section where we can discover significant revelations about ourselves like which sandwich type best matches our personality.
It's no secret that the Internet has fed the flame of self-indulgence and for some, humility has completely gone out the window. But what exactly is the motivation behind all this self obsession? Have we always been selfish people and technology is the enabler? Are we just a bunch of narcissistic brats? It might sound crazy but I think it's possible that the millennial self-obsession is actually a lot more poignant than that.
What makes something go viral on the Internet? There are only a few publications these days that seem to really get it right in terms of creating viral content. The aforementioned BuzzFeed is of course one of the first names that come to mind when you think of virality. A recently published GQ article takes an inside look at the BuzzFeed Animals vertical, a team that has built their entire career out of understanding why one baby animal picture is cuter than another baby animal picture. Jack Shepherd, Animals editor (or Beastmaster as the Animals team members are referred to in the article), theorizes that the biggest reason animal content is so universally loved and consistently shared is because stories about animals tend to show humans at their best -- empathetic, caring, kind. Think people saving abandoned strays or raising awareness about an animal welfare issue. We want to believe that human beings are good people because we want to believe that we are good people as individuals.
I've heard the criticism that my generation expects too much out of life because many of us are the product of positive reinforcement as a parenting technique. Our parents told us "you can do anything," "you can be anything you want to be," "you're special." So when we get to our late twenties and we're still working at a job that has nothing to do with our college major or whatever prolific calling we thought we were going to fulfill by now, we become dejected and frustrated. We feel like we're not doing enough, we feel like there's so much more out there we're meant to do and be. So where do we look to find that fulfillment and self-worth? Yep you guessed it -- the good ol' interwebs.
Not only are we reading content that gives us a good feeling about ourselves, we're creating it too. The harshly judged practice of self picture taking, while perhaps excessive or annoying at times, can actually be a really simple way to feel really good about yourself. Dove is a company known for campaigning to raise self esteem among young women so that they don't get sucked into the objectification that media often bestows upon them. In one of their recent videos aptly titled "Selfie," they use the practice of silly self picture taking as a medium to help young women really see their beauty and self worth in a very honest way. Although our selfies might be veiled in narcissism, self-obsession or boastfulness I think that for many it's a genuine attempt to boost self esteem. Seeing a close up picture of your own face and willingly showing it to thousands of people with one click is a form of self-confidence that I don't think should be quickly dismissed. It's taking a risk and opening the door to criticism but hoping for positive reinforcement and love.
A ridiculous amount of my job is dedicated to understanding exactly what makes people not only read or watch something, but then also spend precious minutes of their time sharing that content. Working in the world of digital strategy you will learn that there are typically 4 main reasons why people share online. Content will be shared if it incites emotion, offers value, facilitates a connection or is in someway remarkable. And expanding on the BuzzFeed Animals virality theory, I believe that people will also view and share content that tells them something about themselves. Something that says "this is about me, this is the type of person I am, or this is who I want to be," and there's nothing wrong with that. It wasn't wrong for our parents to tell us we're special. If you believe you're meant to do great things in this world then you're going to be much more likely to actually do them. But first you have to find out what it is you really want to do! And if taking selfies and looking at baby animals online helps inspire you then why the hell not?
Generation "me" isn't so black and white (Instagram filters aside). We might come off as narcissistic brats sometimes, but maybe we're just trying to get to know ourselves better. Maybe we want and should believe that we're good people. Everyone wants to find a purpose in life and the millennial generation is looking for it on the Internet. Our version of soul-seeking just might annoy you a little bit more than the offline version. Sorry about that!