In today’s fast paced world filled with gadgets of every kind, we are told we should feel more accomplished, more organized and more personally connected than ever. So why is it that so many people seem so much more desperate for attention?
While there is nothing wrong with taking photos or videos and preserving memories or sharing experiences, you have to admit that for some the impulse to document their lives has taken on an obsessive quality. We can Instagram our lunch for all to see! We can post an inspiring - or snarky - tweet! We can put up a selfie or video of ourselves with our friends out having a wonderful time! Do you see how much fun we’re having? Do you see how amazing my life is? Do you see how long my selfie-stick is? Well, do you??
What are we trying to prove? And what are we actually proving?
Experts say that narcissism is on the rise, which shouldn’t come as a shock. Have we ever, as a society, been so self-focused? The rise of social media allows people to fake a sense of celebrity while at the same time making themselves slaves to the responses they receive. This, however, is not the fault of our gadgets, per se, nor the platforms that support them. They are simply amplifying intrinsic characteristics of what it means to be a human being. We are naturally self-centered (since we are at the center of our own experience), and we are hard-wired to “need” to be safely accepted into our own personal tribe (for to be excluded would literally leave us out in the cold). Social media provides a growing outlet for these tendencies, which makes them especially dangerous for young people. Teens, as they always have, are at once striving to develop their own individual identity and standards while at the same time navigating a perpetual onslaught of peer-pressure, which often demands the rubber-stamp of approval and conformity. Add to that the pressure to post attractive photos, respond to texts immediately, “like” the postings of their “friends” instantly, and the fear of potential cyber-bullying. Yikes.
Of course, gadgets and social media are not going away, and we can well imagine similar discussions in the past over the pros and cons of telephones versus letter writing and the proliferation of television sets. These are things we now take for granted. But while each advance in technology speeds up communication and the amount of information at our fingertips, the downside is that it seems to shorten our attention span and decrease the time we take to choose our responses and behaviors. By spreading ourselves too thin our interactions become more shallow and less satisfying. It might all look good on a Facebook page, but how does it feel?
One of the things that makes Cotillion so important in this day and age is that the children cannot fall back on their phones because it is not allowed. If they are nervous when they come in to sit down, or can’t think of anything to say during conversation, or are bored when it’s time to listen, they cannot take out the phone and check Snapchat or play a game. Instead, they must practice being present. They must practice looking real people, people they may not have met before, in the eye. They must participate instead of retreating into a virtual world. And they are constantly reminded to pay attention to how their behavior and words affect the people around them. Instead of turning inward on themselves, they focus outward on their responsibilities to others.
Over time this practice develops self-confidence because they can see and feel how real people respond to them in real time. This is real power that they can use every day of their lives. It may not be flashy, it may not get them more “friends” but it will certainly help them build real friendships that stand the test of time. •GMS