H was telling me that while she was working on her assignment in class today, she overheard a riveting conversation between two people at the back of the room. Let us call these two people Princess 1 and Princess 2, because they might as well be: good looking, rich, dropped into university by their parents, and I'm quite sure they spend a decent portion of the day sighing in the looking-glass (or into their reflective Blackberry screens as it were) 'Mirror, mirror... who's the fairest? etcetera'.
Their conversation lasted a whole hour. Apparently, said H, they were discussing an Application (on Facebook, I suspect) that one of them had just downloaded on their phone. 'How beautiful are you?' was the name of the App, and how it works is - I'm sure you're dying to know - you take a picture of yourself, feed it into the App, and using its unfathomable magical powers, it gives you an accurate percentage of how beautiful you really are. After taking several pictures of themselves - for, of course, one must do this more than once to arrive at an average, it's the only logical thing to do - the princesses delightedly exchanged their scores, which ranged between 81% and 92% - never a score below that, mind you, and this indeed must mean their beauty had been validated by a reliable source (and not at all that the App was kissing ass like all Apps are rumoured to do).
I followed her narration with a similar one of my own - the previous day I'd been in bed reading Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (you must read it!), and I must have read the first page at about 5pm. My housemates meanwhile were all logged onto Facebook at the time, on their separate laptops - they'd just uploaded a host of photographs they'd taken of themselves, while they'd been out for lunch, in pretty dresses, high heels and make-up. So they were going, 'oh look I got 20 likes for this picture' and 'hey this is going to be my next profile picture' and 'this guy just commented on our picture and says you're sexy' and so it went. I finished my book by about 11pm, and looked up, to find them all still lounging around with their laptops, cropping their profile pics and typing 'thx's to the compliments under their pictures and clicking Refresh. It had been nearly six hours.
H and I wondered, are we part of a dying species of people? I barely am part of it, to be honest, because I exited Facebook only a month ago and just to focus on my university syllabus for a while. If I get back on it, which I probably will during vacation, I'm just like everyone else: uploading random crap that people on my list (for some mysterious reason) take the time to scroll through, updating my status about something inane like the stupid bus conductor or the awesome weather, uploading a great new profile picture taken by someone's DSLR, and then
secretly rejoicing over the 'likes' that my bullshit gets.
Fact 1: Social networking fosters narcissism. Refer aforementioned tales. Fact 2: Regular users of social networking sites have their self-esteem linked to their online activity. I've known girls who upload pictures of themselves and go, 'YES, 50 people think I'm pretty - I guess that means I am!' or 'oh shit, just 2 likes, I'm ugly'. Some boys I know are worse. The same goes for whatever else people upload - a lot of the time, for regular users, the likes and comments serve as validation for their sense of self. There have already been a whole load of articles released about this twisted stuff. A study at the University of Georgia had a college student make an interest remark: “Editing yourself and constructing yourself on these social networking sites, even for a short period of time, seems to have an effect on how you see yourself. They are feeling better about themselves in both cases. But in one they are tapping into narcissism and in the other into self-esteem.”
“Social networking sites are a product and a cause of a society that is self-absorbed," claims the student, "Narcissism and self-esteem began to rise in the 1980s. Because Facebook came on the scene only seven years ago, it wasn’t the original cause of the increases. It may be just another enforcer.”
It all sounds bad, but is it really? How bad can it be if everyone's doing it? Whether it affects your self-image, is addictive, or makes you obsess about yourself - or not - my problem with it, one that studies don't care to address, is the epic wastage of time. The inanity of it all. The stupid instagrams of someone's leftover pizza. The harvesting of imaginary vegetables on Farmville. The uploading of self-absorbed crap and the I-care-about-the-likes. It's all dumb and dumbs-down even the smart ones. My normally very intelligent and talented 21 year old housemate spent six hours whiling away on Facebook, stalking her own album of self-portraits taken at a party, eagerly awaiting feedback, instead of using those five hours for - I dunno - reading, writing, assignments, talking to friends, sleeping (yes, even sleep is more productive than clicking the Refresh button on a picture). And that scares me. Maybe I'm just being preachy and old? Am I starting to sound like my mother? 'Stop wasting time in front of the computer and be more productive!'
Well if it means not wanting to be part of a generation that deems the 'How beautiful are you?' App worthy of an hour's indulgence, maybe being labelled preachy and old is a very small price to pay.