Belfast Telegraph

Keep your sad windbaggery to yourself - why I've little time for social media self-promotion

 

Fionola Meredith has had it up to here with other people's blatant and vulgar narcissism being displayed online.

When did it become okay to be a braggart? At what point did it start being socially acceptable to posture, preen and show off wildly about everything you do?

Like many people, I was brought up to believe that boasting about your own talents, achievements or personal good fortune was bad manners. You just didn't do it.

In those not-so-faraway times, modesty was a virtue, and showing off was considered crass, vulgar and rude. Success was something to be celebrated privately, with people who cared about you, not emblazoned on your chest for the whole world to see.

What a difference a few decades can make. Listen for a moment. Hear that faint but unmistakeable roar? That's the sound of a million billion narcissists indulging in an orgy of self-promotion on social media.

Me, me, me, look at me! Look at this article or book or play I wrote, look at this praise for it, look at this prize I won, look at my beautiful kids, look at my beautiful life - oh, and did I mention this article or book or play I wrote? Don't worry if you haven't seen it yet, I'll keep reminding you about it with hourly updates, right until bedtime. Just as long as you keep looking at me and listening to me. Because when it comes down to it, it's always all about me, me, me.

A few years ago, I attempted - for my own amusement - to parody all this by setting up a Twitter account in the name of my dog. I dutifully tweeted his daily achievements, such as his regular trips to the back garden to relieve himself. Ah, another fine defecation to share with the world. Big shout-out to the canine masses!

But now the whole thing has gone beyond parody. Now everyone has become their own PR man or woman, bragging shamelessly about their exploits, including the most mundane, inconsequential stuff, like what a perfect avocado they had for breakfast.

Why? Because everyone else does it too. The windbaggery is endemic, it's self-reinforcing and it's an integral part of the culture. I suspect that for many people, especially writers, commentators and other media types - that is, those who tend to have the greatest wire about themselves, whether justified or not - it's not even seen as boasting any more, merely part of the necessary job of selling themselves, or curating a fantasy online version of themselves, for the rest of us poor dupes to buy into.

Somebody really needs to put manners on these people. They clearly require help to understand that endlessly re-tweeting compliments about yourself is a pathetic act of neediness, not a proud affirmation of gargantuan talent. Nobody - well, nobody with a titter of wit - will think better of you if you do it. They'll just think you're a sad prat with self-esteem issues, desperately trying to make yourself feel important or loveable. And that's never a good look.

Sure, some boasters, particularly celebrities, try to make things appear a little better by indulging in what's known as the 'humblebrag': "an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud". They gloss their preening with a layer of false humility. As in, 'Only managed ninety lengths at the pool today - pretty lame, I was going for the full hundred'.

The actor and presenter Stephen Fry has long been a reliable source of blatant humblebrags. Here's an old classic: "Oh dear. Don't know what to do at the airport. Huge crowd, but I'll miss my plane if I stop and do photos … oh dear don't want to disappoint."

But a recent study by Harvard Business School found that humblebraggers are actually seen as less competent and less likeable than those who are straight up with their boasting.

By that logic, it's better to emulate the notoriously narcissistic rapper Kanye West, who says things like, "I made that song because I am a god". At least you know where you are with Kanye.

Better still, why not give up the effortful facade completely? I remain a proud social media refusenik - cue humblebrag! - because I just can't be bothered. I prefer to keep my pleasures (and my conversations) private. And I'm not the only one. I know people who have deleted their Facebook or Instagram accounts because the continuous showing-off was making them feel depressed.

There is life after Twitter. You just have to believe in yourself.

Belfast Telegraph

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