My family and I recently took a day trip today to a popular hike and waterfall destination on the island we live on. We knew it was a very touristy place and had not yet been yet. We don’t “get out” a lot, having two little kids, two full-time jobs and mostly enjoy hiking and staying home with our kids. Living in a tropical destination location, we do see a lot of pictures being taken. I have lived here in Hawaii during the exact period of time that smartphones have become ubiquitous; they were still a novelty when I left San Francisco.
But this day, for some reason, I was absolutely struck by how enslaved people are to their phones. At the end of the hike, where the main waterfall is and people congregate to take pictures and swim, I found myself in a veritable sea of selfies.
To be fair, were some people, notably the older generation, or people with small children, who paused to snap a few token shots, as is to be expected in a beautiful tropical location on one’s vacation, and then went about their business either hiking back or enjoying the place. But it really struck me how the younger generations, people around my age and younger, all had their smartphones glued to their hands and spent the entire time taking selfies. Like, literally the entire time.
I was so amazed to, at one point, look out into the small pool and see nearly every single person in the group of two dozen or so people holding their cellphones in their hands while they were standing in chest height-water, either taking or looking at pictures of themselves. My wild imagination milled over the amount of pings that were currently being created for the location we were in, the amount of photos that weren’t going to make the cut, the amount of times these photos were going to be checked for likes, and when the heck had it become a normal thing to do to just bring your cellphone into the water when you went swimming (are all smartphones water proof now or something?).
Given these people were all standing in water, I couldn’t help but think of the myth of Narcissus, from which the word “narcissistic” is derived, who was so in love with the beautiful reflection of himself that he saw in a pond that he fell in the water and drowned. It wasn’t hard to imagine one of these people being so engrossed in selfies or so determined not to drop their phones that they might end up injuring themselves on a slippery rock or in the deep water.
It was so totally bizarre.
Now don’t get me wrong, just because I don’t take selfies all the time doesn’t mean I’m not as vulnerable to vanity or insecurity, or get caught in the snare of social media at times. I didn’t feel in any way morally superior to these people, I was just so struck by how much the world has changed in such a short time.
This whole new completely narcissistic practice of constantly taking pictures of yourself, looking at them, deciding you need more, and repeating is very hard for me to think about without getting a knot in my stomach. I mean, for the majority of the people I observed today, all they were doing was taking tons and tons of selfies. As if that was what they had come to do. Just over and over and over again, taking pictures of themselves. Over here, over there, this side of me, that side of me, oh look, do they look ok? Oh, no, ew that picture is horrible, here, let me take another one. And surely posting the winners on the social media network of choice and sitting back while the likes poured in. Social media itself, so easily available on smartphones, can become a hugely narcissistic habit even if one is not taking constant selfies.
I mentioned the crazy volume of selfies going on to my husband who just nodded and said “Yup. They’re all slaves to them. And their beloved devices are tracking their every move. They’re like pigs who don’t notice that three walls of the trap have gone up around their food.” He was referring to a particular method of trapping pigs, in which you feed pigs in an area repeatedly, first putting up one wall of a trap, then the next, and the next, so that the pig feels comfortable eating around the walls, then one day you put up the forth wall while they are happily eating. It is a very similar metaphor to the frog in boiling water.
The majority of young Americans are just like these pigs. The walls are up and they don’t even know, or care, because they are too busy gorging themselves on their own constant supply of digital validation and ego boosting. Posting selfies for social media likes are narcissistic puppy chow. They are in absolutely comfortable bondage to their own slave devices. Happily documenting their every move for the world to see. They have become their own idols, everyone creating a celebrity version of themselves and living in digital fantasy worlds while their comfortable cage gets more and more secure.
There is no turning back from this point in human history. The human race has sold itself into bondage to its own ego, which will ultimately result in both its physical-and spiritual-demise. And they won’t even see the brimstone coming, because they’ll be too busy looking down at their phones and making sure their hair looks all right in the light of the fire raining down on them.