April 19, 2019

A woman takes a selfie with a statue of Vladimir Lenin. Credit: AP Photo / Dmitri Lovetsky

This piece originally aired on March 23rd, 2018.

Twitter. Selfie-sticks. Reality TV. It can seem like our society is becoming more narcissistic and self-involved. (Just read a few of the boatload of articles and think-pieces on this topic) But are we really more self-centered? The answer involves Aristotle, Ayn Rand, and 80s-era California. At least, that’s according to Will Storr, author of the book, Selfie: How We Became Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing To Us. He explains how our conception of self has changed throughout human history, and why we’re so self-involved today.

Three Takeaways 

  • Storr argues that the environment shapes our conception of self. In ancient Greece, the landscape was rocky and difficult to farm. This led to more people becoming middlemen, merchants, and hustlers. Which, in turn, led to people valuing individuality and personal achievement over collective work. And that, Storr thinks, is where the Western idea of selfhood comes from. 
  • People have become more narcissistic in the past few decades, says Storr. And he points to the self-esteem movement of the 1980s as one of the main causes. Parents were encouraged to over-praise their children, and Storr thinks that led to a generation that demanded even more attention and validation. 
  • Storr believes that it isn’t necessarily Twitter or Facebook that’s making us more narcissistic, though. Instead, it could be a rise in narcissism that contributes to Twitter and Facebook’s popularity. “It isn’t Twitter and selfie cameras that are causing these things,” Storr says. “It’s that people are choosing to use these things. I mean, Silicon Valley throws up dozens of ideas a day you could say, easily. It’s the people that choose which ones work.” 

More reading 

narcissism, Selfie, Ancient Greece, Culture, Will Storr, psychology

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