Selfie: How We Became So Self Obsessed

We live in strange times. A generation of selfies and self harm. We create edited online personas of people seemingly living perfect lives. Yet behind the screens insecurity, vanity and depression are the defining characteristics of our culture.

People absorb culture like sponges. Every time we open our phones we internalize the competitive game of likes, retweets and follows as we strive to reach the false cultural concept of the — “perfect self” —  (why did I only get 12 likes on my last post?! I’m better that that!) and when we don’t receive positive, dopamine fueled feedback we hate ourselves for failing. Hence the recent spikes in self-harm, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and suicide can be attributed to this damaging culture of ‘social perfectionism.’

This is the argument of a brilliant new book by author Will Storr who traces our story of self obsession back to Ancient Greece and Aristotle. Storr describes how the Greek concept of “selfhood” was heavily based on individual self improvement and through the persistence of personal will one could obtain the optimal level of spiritual, mental, physical, and material being.

Fetishizing the self permeated the Western conscience ever since. Storr decides to live with monks in a secluded monastic settlement, enrolls in the infamous California retreat centre named the Esalen Institute where the “self-esteem” movement is said to have been born and finally stays with the tech evangelist entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley to try and piece together how the modern self was formed and how we can survive it.

This is a phenomenal exploration of Western culture and through Storr’s blend of interviews, personal reflection and analysis the book reads like a Louis Theroux documentary. There are times when chapters can feel verbose and Storr spends a third of the book discussing the Esalen Institute and the libertarian movement’s impact on the social and political direction of the 20th century. Yet it’s a book that has stuck with me a month after reading and opened my mind to the extent our motivations and opinions of ourselves are products of a deeply individualistic culture of perfectionism.  I can’t recommend it enough.


Selfie ohoto

5 thoughts on “Selfie: How We Became So Self Obsessed

  1. Striving towards being the best person you are capable of being is one thing, striving to appear perfect to others is another entirely. The first leads to peace and contentment. The second leads discontent and addiction. 😦

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Seeking approval on social media can also be driven by a selfless desire to entertain other people and know you are be effective at doing it. Each person should examine their own motives. Sick people will be sick even if they’re not using social media.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoyed this article; it reminded me of a study I’ve recently read where it linked people who spend a considerable amount of time on social media to depression. The only thing people generally post on social media are the ups, and rarely the downs. As a result, I think people get a false sense of reality.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I don’t think Aristotle’s philosophy was about being self-obsessed, more about being ‘virtuous’?

    A desire (a duty even) to educate oneself, to become ‘wise’. Then to be ‘useful’ by passing on that wisdom to others.

    The ‘obsessive’ use of social media? Very obviously unwise.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Instead of using the internet to bypass corporate media and educate oneself about state crimes against humanity, people use it to twitter away. Welcome to 21st century eurocentrism…

    Liked by 3 people

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