The death of depth


It’s very likely that kids will find this column to be, like, totally stupid, and will conclude that they can write one sooooo much better. They will declare this on their Twitter feed, sandwiched between the hundreds of photos of themselves making that pursed-lips “duck face,” then wait for the “friends” they’ve never met in person to tell them how hot they look.

That’s because compared with 30 years ago, more American students think they’re above average in writing, leadership, intelligence, drive and social skills, according to a BBC analysis of college freshmen data by psychologist Jean Twenge. A separate study Twenge published found that student narcissism increased from 18 percent to 34 percent between 1994 and 2008, with a significant spike between 2006 and 2009. That date range just happens to coincide with the rise of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

Technology now makes it possible for people to live out their delusions in all their grandeur. Did you know that it’s possible to actually purchase Facebook “friends” and “likes,” and that people do this to make themselves appear more popular and attractive? So rather than spending $30 treating a real-life friend to the movies — where you actually might have to do yucky things like interact, converse and perhaps even risk some personal friction — you could use that cash to buy yourself some new social media “friends” whose job is to “like” every brain dropping you post online. Why deal with the messiness and complications of friendship with real human beings when you can just hire unidirectional admiration and unconditional affection from invisible entities in different time zones?

At what point in one’s pursuit of fake adulation does a person actually start to enjoy the taste of his own bathwater? Does anyone ever drain that filthy bath and explain that 90 percent of their 50,000 Twitter followers, from which they derive a fake sense of popularity, are fake spam accounts? Are they ever asked by someone who truly cares about them what they’ve done lately with their lives to generate any genuine substance of which they can be proud? Of course not, because even these unpaid “friends” are too busy choosing which Instagram filter best turns their own flaws into art in the 250th photo of themselves trying to look rich, popular, fun or sexy. They may not like where they are in life, but that hardly matters when what really counts is what others think of them.

If you get up and don’t like what you see in the mirror, that’s OK, because 250 fake “friends” will love it. It’s a castle of self-esteem perched atop a foundation of quicksand.

But I’m not going to just trash the kids here. It’s really society’s fault. Just look at the ample evidence of how our collective standards have slipped. We’ve sent TV networks a strong message that watching the Kardashians sit around complaining about each other is compelling — because some people would rather watch this nonsense than shut it off and go create some excitement of their own. Kids see how Kim Kardashian and others have gotten rich and famous by exposing their lives on TV, and they try to emulate that trajectory. They come away with the message that money and fame come first, then opportunities just fall from the sky. What’s sad is that they are, in essence, correct.

The rich and famous used to have actual talent as a foundation. The ones who happened to be the most physically appealing may have received a boost from their looks, but their appearance certainly wasn’t the entire foundation of their success. That’s why those people will remain timeless legends — for their contributions — whereas many of the “stars” of today will be forgotten by the time the next starlet sex tape conveniently leaks out online.

The spike in narcissism among college freshmen is a natural result of increased entitlement to shortcuts. Want to be an entrepreneur? “Where’s my venture capital?” you ask. Want to be fit and slim? “Where’s my magic pill?” Want employment right out of college? “Where’s my $250,000 annual salary?”

Looking like you’re great has replaced true greatness. Being an empty suit is all right if the suit is Armani. And what’s most concerning is that there are increasingly fewer people who can tell the difference between the real deal and a cheap knockoff — perhaps because they can’t recognize what they themselves don’t know.

(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. She appears frequently on TV and in publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her website can be found at: http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)

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