Part Un: The Calamity of Vanity
Written by: Evan Hackler
Picture: "All is Vanity" by Charles Allan Gilbert
Ecclesiastes 1:2 (Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.)
Social media platforms [Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.], like it or not, have been cemented as a ubiquitous force in mainstream society. These overpopulated vessels of commune, often proliferating narcissism, procrastination and other favorite human pastimes, are increasingly becoming publicly traded and tapped into by businesses, educational institutions and social movements, to name a few. The convergence of these two worlds are creating a behemoth of a social Venn diagram, where some people only operate in a vain capacity, some are strictly trying to grow their respective businesses and movements, and most are waltzing in the preverbal overlap – an overlap that presents potential tangible consequences, inherent with subscription to both worlds.
Disclaimer: I am not submitting to be the Morgan Freeman [G-D] of social responsibility and best practices, nor have I been employed as a “guardian of the moral high ground.” However, I am an astute observer of human tendency as well as a human, by birth [Thanks mom and Happy Mother’s Day]. These truths, coupled with owning a small business, one I shan’t plug, provide me with the requisite experience to craft an insightful commentary on human obsession and social media. The piece is not supposed to resemble a timely response to an issue [to those of you who state a song is “old” when it has been released for only two weeks], but a brief chronicling of my observations and direct contact with social media deplorables [unblocked by firewalls], who you will meet, fear not, and come to spite with a vigor on par with my own.
Let’s start this meandering journey to the center of the code with the concept of vanity – a multi-faceted yet handsome little word, all the denotations of which are overtly negative. If you do not know what the word “vanity” or “vain” means, then you are most certainly fortunate enough to have never been enslaved by it, or you simply had no formal education. Vanity, most simply put, stands as a seemingly unhealthy preoccupation or obsession with one’s appearance, self-worth and possessions, to name a few. Thus, it should come as little surprise, somewhere along the line, so enamored with the preservation and nurturing of one’s social stock, we decided to name a piece of furniture after it. This brilliant association is perhaps one of the Western World’s finest ironies. Women and men alike use make-up daily to hide facial imperfections, not because doing so will alleviate the pain of being socked in the temple, but to ensure no guest leaves dinner abruptly due to an unexpected viewing of above the chin hostile territory. Hilariously enough, we named the contraption used to apply the perception changing creams and powders after the obsession that has driven individuals to seek such a device in the first place.
An antique vanity, thankfully awaiting immediate curbside pick-up.
The item is literally a workbench for superficiality. On the off chance a portion of your face was slightly under dusted, perhaps an interloper such as a pimple had intervened with your soiree plans, you could even rotate the mirror 90 degrees to see the well-hidden tango and smother it into submission.
Please understand that I wholly support taking pride in one’s appearance, and indeed do so myself, at times, to a fault. However, I am dragging the absurdity of the degree our love-affair with vanity and the appearance of self, under the magnifying glass, emphasizing not only the degree, but the duration of its entrenchment in the daily lives of a vast majority of people. Haven’t you ever heard too much of a good thing rarely stays that way? We yearn for the next bigger and better adaptation of “things” we find pleasure in. The “bomb”, computers/robots, finance, athletic performance and phones have all shown to be deathly susceptible. Self-improvement or in some cases, aggrandizing, proves to be yet another facet of life unable to withstand the suction of human tendency.
I led you through the sticks for good reason. If the century old [gross understatement] obsession with cover over content has proliferated without so much as a small setback, let’s extrapolate. Couple the historical record with the fairly recent advent of electronic frameworks, accessible to billions of people at once. Mind you, these are electronic frameworks that keep a permanent record in a warm and cozy cloud, stationary, for all eternity. So when Jim has a little extra time on a Friday afternoon, much akin to this one, he decides to take a trip down Facebook memory lane, a popular journey for many. On his electronic excursion he sees his past come back all at once. That time he posted a quote he found by Bono that deeply resonated with his worldview – No likes, two ha-ha’s, and a comment from a troll calling Tim a social justice warrior [Tim slumps in chair and quickly moves on]. Next is a profile picture in which he crops out his best friend in order to “make sure no one mixes up the two,” – a rather confusing thought pattern because Tim is almost explicitly connected with “friends” on Facebook and “Tinder”[formerly lowercase] is still known as an agent essential for setting things aflame, used by Bear Gryllis-type folk who prefer to “rough it.” Also, there is a selfie of Jim at the library “pulling an all-nighter”, a truly important picture he would have taken even if Facebook ceased to leave Zuck’s dorm room, because it is SOP for Jim to relay to his friends and family that they need not worry about his study regimen.
Never before have there been so many group pictures every single time friends go out – because the whole world truly cares about Thirsty Thursday and the aftermath that usually follows. When your pictures are getting a myriad of likes, your notions of self-importance rise, whether you recognize it or not. Slowly we are turning into an electronic human Pavlov experiment, conditioned by likes, comments and followers. Humans seek validation, whether that validation is organic or not, because the same chemical release of serotonin is elicited, whether you climb the face of a steep cliff or people are going year-end sale crazy in commenting on how pleasing to the eye you appear to be in a heavily filtered photo on Instagram. Social media is operating under a perpetual Marshall law, on a warpath, hell-bent on increasing its user-base via mandatory subscription to its own cyber-constitution, policed and espoused daily as evinced by the interactions of its own users – resulting in a massive devaluing of our life-long subscription to the artist formerly known as reality, the tangential world.
Until now I have been focusing on the first circle, those who used the media apps for socialization amongst friends, family and peers, without any qualifiable reason or business goal – whether because they were in high school / college or simply because there lay no real compelling reason to engage in social media, in that capacity. Now these social media engines are insanely profitable and desirable to investors, businesses themselves all have group pages and use Facebook as a marketing tool – most with their own social media positions. Instagram is used to sell art, craft goods, lives we will never have, and even abodes. Great, outstanding, life-enriching content – but what seems to be the issue at hand here? The issue is who is conducting a majority of this business? The same individuals indoctrinated into the ways of the “like button” in high school in college are now conducting business on the same platform that positively reinforced vanity, catering to the expectations of others, and maximizing popularity in their youth. What will result, I argue, are systemic conflicts when the aforementioned adolescent social media world intermingles with the more established business world – conflicts birthed from the superficial internalizations and modes of thinking we do not even realize we adopted, the calamity of vanity. Stay tuned for Part Deux, next Friday.