The Perforation of our Puffery: Needling the Narcissim that Drives our Shitty Behavior on Line
Long before I dumped Facebook (one of the supremely valuable gifts that I gave myself this past fall) for extremely good reason (hey, here’s the latest set of reasons why you need to get the hell off https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/facebooks-very-bad-month-just-got-worse) I had become sick unto death of the behavior of people who had identified themselves as my “friend.”
Those folks, whose posts peppered my thread, also had a habit of constantly changing their selfies, which usually consisted of a kissy face extreme closeup (ECU) which featured their nose hairs and an intimate look at their pore size. These photos reminded me of Match.com profiles which featured 26 photos of the MAN HIMSELF, all ECUs, all various versions of Mr. Wonderful. A terrific early warning systems: Danger! Danger! Asshole Ahead!
I wrote a post about selfies, and guess who complained? The ones who posted the most selfies. They complained that it was a sign of confidence. Of self love.
Um, NO. It’s not. What it is is indicative of a great deal of insecurity and neediness. Self-absorption and the grandiosity of fake self-importance in a world of 7.6 billion souls. Each day we are faced with the horrific truth of our nothingness, the reality that our lives largely don’t mean much in the big picture. That’s both terrifying and freeing.
Those who are infected by the narcissism of our day can’t get their arms around the inherent gift in recognizing our meaninglessess. When we let go of the incessant grasping for approval by people who not only don’t give a shit about us but who are themselves just as needy, it’s right amazing what we can get done in life.
Social media is the playground of the self-absorbed. To wit:
The constant photo updates, the constant friending, the constant feeds of shit nobody cares about (Here’s a photo of my SUSHI. Here’s a photo of my TOENAIL CLIPPINGS. Here’s a photo of my DOG SHIT.) and ECU videos of their pontificating about the traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike telegraph an appalling lack of self worth.
We curate our best photos, show our lives in all its dishonest perfection, and do our best to present to those we believe are breathlessly hanging on to our every word a life that is unfettered by farts, bad breaths, occasional diarrhea and people who really don’t like us.
At some base level, we really believe that if we put that construct on line, it will be true.
It isn’t. You want fake news? This is what fake news is. It’s the edited material people post about their perfect lives. That’s fake. In every sense of the word. Most of what’s on Instagram is so carefully edited that it’s like reality TV. There’s a whole production behind the bullshit. We want others to be envious. To believe the Disney World version of our rather boring, everyday, often stultifying existence.
Because a good bit of life is just life, whether it’s sitting on the john, paying our bills, struggling to balance the checkbook, arguing with our kids/spouse/other half, cleaning dirt from under our nails, picking pimples and coloring our greying hair. It’s just goddamned LIFE. The law-conformable every day, supremely boring shit we all do to simply BE.
For a fun look at how much time we spend doing stuff, see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4186598/How-time-spend-activities-lifetime.html. I loved this quote about men: They spend around nine hours and 18 seconds of their lives in a state of orgasm, if the data compiled by German sexologist Rolf Degen is to be believed. (That makes me wanna run and go get my buzzer toy just to prove them wrong but I digress)
If I only posted the summits I achieved, the end-of-adventure shots of fist pumping, the moments when I was truly on top of the world or in front of a gorgeous smorgasbord of Thai food, it would be fake news. While I do have those things in my life, they don’t show the arthritis in my hip, the long, hard hours of hiking, the pain of a bone bruise, the hard slogging daily work of workouts to get me in shape to do such things. That’s not fake news. The sweat, the stink, the pain, and the prices paid to do what I do are the reality.
W. Keith Campbell explains that people often utilize Facebook “to look important, look special and to gain attention and status and self-esteem.” Campbell and Dr. Jean Twenge of the University of San Diego take on this topic in the seminal book The Narcissistic Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.
Those who are fully engaged in life, have no time for such nonsense.
When we invest untold amounts of time building an online image that is, ultimately, unsustainable, we end up with an overinflated egotistical balloon which is ripe for a nice needle. There is no way we can buy the bullshit of our invented, ridiculously oversold lives forever. The simple truths of our daily failures, the mornings we show up dressed as assholes, the feedback from bosses and friends that indeed, we are NOT all that eventually poke a very big hole in our overinflated selves.
The problem today is that social media allows us to maintain this puffery for a good long time. This desperate need to be important when we aren’t, this mind suck that people really truly give a shit about the quality of our bowel movements or the bottle of Clase Azul Reposado Tequila that we downed last night in one sitting are indications of how banal, our mindlessly numb our lives really are.
That’s hard to swallow. Far easier to construct a wholly fake life, with fake avatars living out fake existences in a quasi Disney World of perfection, rather than do the deeply satisfying, hard, slogging work of making a meaningful life for ourselves. Being useful to those whose lives we touch rather than commit ourselves to shoring up the baseless story of how we live a perfect existence.
Those people on Medium.com, including Craig Schmitt who was kind enough to write me a powerful few words on the loss of his wife last year, speak to the power of authenticity. A real life is a deeply flawed one, one full of pain and loss and long hours of solitude (if we’re lucky). A real life is one that embraces our nothingness and uses that to craft something from dust. To embrace how little we mean to the larger Universe is also to embrace how much good we really can do in the lives of those who love us.
That immediate and powerful intimacy provides intense feedback for how potent our lives really can be when we release the ridiculous need to be bigger than Kanye (who is about as big an asshole as America can produce, which is why Trump loves him and his mindless wife, Kim). Give that up, and suddenly you really are available to do great things, when you give up trying to be something you aren’t. In other words, when you forfeit the need to be great, influential, powerful and popular, you actually are given the space to earn those things. Otherwise it’s pure puffery.
When we speak to our authentic selves, and peel back the dense protective layers of our manufactured personas to reveal that truth within, we move people’s lives. We touch that responsive chord that resonates with the truth of our collective humanity. We all hurt. We all cry. We all suffer. And we all strive. We move people when we laugh at our own shortcomings and poke holes in our hubris.
When Craig writes about losing his wife and finding the grace in grief, I am uplifted and reminded of how emotions are our greatest teachers. How loss can lift us, despite the pain. That is a gift. He doesn’t live some perfect, pain-free life. He doesn’t have it easy. None of us does, not really. But his truth is transformational.
That’s why this perfect nonsense of Instagram highlights and Facebook fakery is so defeating, so demoralizing to so many. It’s also why we so desperately need people who love us enough to show up with a sharp knitting needle and pop the bullshit balloon forever. The truth of our daily lives, and how we rise to deal with them, are our real gifts to those who care about us, follow us, read our stories. The material that moves me the most is that which speaks to our deepest, darkest hearts, our greatest fears, and how we stand up to embrace them.
As an original Disney cast member on Main Street at Disney World back in 1971, I know something about living in a fantasy world. The one thing I kept from late nights walking up Main Street after all the guests had left on the Monorail was the beauty of the sparkling lights. Throughout my home, I have at least twenty silk trees which sport that magic. It’s the only fantasy I allow. The rest of the time I do my level best to level with myself about just how important I am.
Except to those whose lives I actually add value to. To those whose emotions I touch. To those whose lives are moved by a story, a hug, a listening ear, a gift. Those aren’t many. But they are plenty enough.