In the U.S. especially, people like myself who follow culture closely are justifiably concerned about the state of political polarization. We’ve devolved into tribes and tribes go to war. But there are even more sinister forces at play, brewing in parallel to the polarized state we find ourselves in. And while it may not be a threat to our democracy—it’s slowly and methodically killing our decency and decaying our culture.
The most recent example? A woman working at Burger King—specifically a teacher working to pay off student loans was spotted by a passerby who caught her sleeping on a cardboard box and mocked her for her transgression. The result is predictable—the video goes “viral”, the intent of the person filming it in the first place and society is entertained.
The author of the piece I came upon added this cultural commentary to the story, and I am so glad he did because he’s right:
“We reward people now for their social media prowess. The entire influencer industry is based on it. And we’ve created technology that allows jerks like the guy who recorded and posted the video in this story to get a few minutes of fame, or at least viral bragging rights.”
I’m tempted to do some quick research that validates how there’s an epidemic of narcissism sweeping society or to find the latest study that shows the negative influences that social media can have on our emotional health. But you can do that for yourself—it’s all out there. I just want to take a moment to point out how much behavior like this is robbing ourselves of our humanity and identities daily. Our new values include internet fame for everyone. Likes and shares are more valuable than Bitcoin and less volatile. Even for those who aren’t able to translate their Insta-fame into real dollars—the dopamine hits are enough to keep it going.
We don’t value work or things of substance, we value attention.
People like myself, years ago wrote about the “attention economy” and weren’t wrong—I once half-jokingly called it the “ME-conomy” not even realizing how fast and far and culturally destructive this would all be. Just take a look at how the tools have changed but we’re still at the center of our self-made universes. All roads lead to ME.
We’re way past due for a correction. This social system isn’t sustainable. Our values are flipped upside down when we’re mocking people for making a living and trying to pay their debts. We shouldn’t even have to feel sympathy for this woman because she’s taking on a side job in addition to a noble pursuit as an educator—we should feel the same way about anyone who’s working any job, trying to make a living. There’s honor in all work.
But our culture is sending us other signals...
There’s money to be made in every potential post. And even if there isn’t—there’s the promise of micro-fame and the intoxication that comes with it. And that intoxication is turning us all into monsters.