The 21st century culture is all about self-obsession. And the great thing about being self-obsessed is that you don’t realize that everyone else around you is self-obsessed as well. I mean, all your time is taken up, right? But before we get on to the philosophical bits, let’s start with a tough psychological test – designed to drill down to the core of your personality and discover exactly how much empathy you display when it comes to the trials and tribulations of your peers. Specifically, I want to gauge your reaction to a heart-warming little tale of two well-known footballers’ wives – let’s call them Victoria and Cheryl – who meet in Palma one early September morning for a skinny latte and a bit of premier league gossip.
As it happens, Victoria’s kiss-and-tell autobiography has just been published, and V is brimming with tales of six-figure advances, long evenings in the company of her tall dark handsome ghost-writer – and how she’s now at a complete loss as to how to elude the rampaging posse of paparazzi camped outside the restaurant door … The normally ebullient Cheryl is reduced to virtual silence – apart from the occasional “ooh” or “great” or “terrible” – as Victoria totally loses the run of herself and her monologue rambles on from five to ten to twenty hopelessly self-obsessed minutes. Will it never end!
Finally though she appears to be running out of steam, and Cheryl prepares for a counter-assault centred around the fabulous new Audi R8 her hubby has just bought her to help her cope with the downright lies splashed across last Sunday’s tabloids – complete with utterly circumstantial long-lens colour photos. “But really, that’s enough about me”, insists V reprovingly, as if Cheryl had been pressing constantly for more and more salacious detail. “That’s enough about me. What about you?! Tell me, what do you think of my new book …? ”
Okay, what this really comes down to is whether you get it or you don’t – and that will determine where you stand in the 1 to 10 self-obsession line-up, where 1 indicates a passing familiarity with some elements of the outside world apart from fashion and celebrity gossip and your own immediate circle … and 10 indicates that you’re hopelessly in love with the only person in the world who really matters, yourself!
If you get it, there’s still hope. If not, you’re probably the female equivalent of the premier league footballer – let’s stay with the same culture and class for ease of comparison – who complains to his mate: “I just can’t understand it. My wife thinks I put football before marriage … even though we’ve just celebrated our third successful season together!”
But let’s face it, it’s not just footballers and their wives who’ve taken to living in a self-referential little bubble – it’s the rest of us as well. Culture used to be a coming-together of people of all backgrounds to celebrate the best of our creativity. But now we’ve become so self-obsessed that all our creativity goes into being vacuous on Facebook and Twitter – “communicating” 24×7 with our 650 closest friends. “Having a lie-in this morning, already on seventh cup of coffee”, you tweet excitedly.
“Me wearing very funny hat while on holiday in foothills of Sierra de Tramuntana … Angela Merkel on cycling holiday here with bodyguards, staying at same hotel …”, you post.
“My new Audi R8 gets first dent in altercation with scooter driven by German paparazzo …”, you fume.
“Millionth copy of my new autobiography bought by my best friend, Cheryl … oh, and by the way, I’ve just joined the Friends of Max Clifford celebrity-in-need support group”, you squeal happily.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about Facebook, though the fans hugely outnumber the opponents – and I have to admit that personally I’m still a social media atheist (I was going to say “social media virgin”, but I wasn’t quite sure where that might lead …).
A global Let’s Leave Facebook Day at the start of the summer was a huge flop, though one American comedian did speculate on what the effect might have been if the campaign had been more successful … “Share prices soared today at pharmaceuticals giant, Eli Lilly, the maker of Prozac, as millions of people threatened to leave the social media website, Facebook, in a row over privacy issues. “Analysts anticipate that huge numbers of former users all over the world could be traumatized on waking up to learn that they really only have a handful of friends … or fewer.”
And it certainly is true that you can’t be too careful about who’s watching when you update your social media profile and post all those juicy personal details that identity thieves love so much. For instance, one waitress at a pizza chain in North Carolina in the US was fired recently when she posted on Facebook how annoyed she was at making such meagre tips. It appears her miserable boss saw the post and took exception. And though I’m not renowned for them … that really is a true story!
On the whole, I take an old-fashioned view: anything that keeps people occupied also keeps them off the streets and that’s good for social order. It’s the old bread and circuses strategy which originated with my favourite Roman satirist, Juvenal, in around 100 AD … and was given a little local tweak to become known in nineteenth-century Spain as pan y toros, bread and bullfights.
Goodness knows what all those millions of people might be doing if they weren’t harmlessly engaged in posting their posts and tweeting their tweets, updating their profiles and, generally speaking, running around in ever-decreasing social media circles.
They might want to get involved in some real culture, music, literature, painting, sculpture, gastronomy, or even, perish the thought, oenology. And then what would the rest of us do? Things are fine as they are, thank you very much. Everything is working a tweet!