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

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Why Universities Are Just A Corporate Conveyor Belt

A Career Fair is a microcosm. A dizzying snapshot into the absurd world of work. Fake smiles, branded ‘gifts’ and the unnaturally perky trainee enlightening you how his internship last summer really gave him an insight into “the culture of the firm” and explaining how he is now “making a global impact” working with multinationals seeking to “restructure their taxes more efficiently.”  

The hollow atmosphere and disorienting degree of pretense is an apt introduction into the artificial and often contradictory way of corporate life. The initial flood of smiles and joy mimic the beginning of the corporate career. Lively work nights out and complimentary company perks are used as bait during internship programs to give the illusion that life at the company is a balanced, eclectic mix of work and fun.

Yet as soon as you sign your name on the dot the fun quickly evaporates and is replaced with entrapment and demands of constant productivity. Fourteen hour days at a desk drowning in cesspools of endless files and spreadsheets sacrificing every piece of your soul to help Company A merge with company B to make profit X – because “that’s just how the world works – whether you like it or not.” 

Yet it’s our resignation and acceptance of this status quo which is most baffling. With the existential crises of climate change, smartphone addiction and global corporate domination all looming large, why are we content with the best and brightest minds of our generation being snapped up by banks and law firms putting endless energy into continuing the cycles of profit maximisation and wealth insulation to further cement and exacerbate the problems threatening our collective future?

Former head of Data at Facebook, Jeff Hamerbacher aptly summarised the situation when speaking about his genius graduating class from MIT, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads – that sucks.” 

The people best equipped to tackle and solve the world’s problems are the ones being actively recruited to make them worse.

The people best equipped to tackle and solve the world’s problems are the ones being actively recruited to make them worse.

Universities should carry a considerable portion of blame. The biggest banks, investment funds and law firms have been allowed to monopolise the career opportunities of graduates and given an unfettered access to students without any pushback. Luxury events, sponsored lecturers, paid internships and on campus brand ambassadors are just some of the ways they cement hegemony and normalise corporate careers at a time when students are apprehensive about their future.

Many are not even aware that there are viable alternative career options outside corporate. One minute your in university, then suddenly all your peers are scrambling for job application deadlines and your family keep asking you “what are you doing after college?” In a flurry of insecurity and pressure you decide to apply for lack of better alternative and take the security of salary over the time to do something different. 

Many of those who enter these industries never re-emerge. They initially justify taking the position by saying things like it’s a steady income straight out of college or a good stepping stone to the career they really want. Yet after two years the lifestyle becomes so draining, so exhausting and so financially comfortable that most never decide to take the risk of stepping outside and trying to do something with meaning and value.

In order to confront this corporate capture of youth and redirect the next generation of work to meaningful, constructive and fulfilling jobs it’s essential we begin to break down the false image and empty branding of the corporate lifestyle. It is not glamorous successful and prestigious, it is brutal, greedy and callous. The sooner we accept that the sooner we move forward.

 

Why Young People Are Ditching Social Media For Good

The featured image is a work by the incredibly talented Steve Cutts.

Kids growing up in 2017’s digital dystopia are sold one of the biggest lies ever told. That social media is an innocuous online tool to “connect” with friends.

In reality social media has destroyed meaningful connection and replaced it with artificial online packs of “like-minded individuals” who all hold the same beliefs and subscribe to the same dogmas. This meticulously designed,  hyper-addictive technology’s only mantra is to keep the audience hooked for as many hours of the day as possible, monetize their attention by collecting data and sell it to advertisers.

Facebook says it has an eye-popping 2 billion users. It is staggering to see how globally, so much of our lives have migrated to platforms controlled and designed by a few Silicon Valley engineers. The exciting explosion of smartphone technology has overshadowed the questions as to whether tech companies should have such an invasive, intimate role in our lives. Leader in tech design ethics Tristan Harris explains why we should be concerned about tech changing our behaviour:

“Companies say, we’re just getting better at giving people what they want. But the average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Is each one a conscious choice? No. Companies are getting better at getting people to make the choices they want them to make.”

Young people are particularly vulnerable. Being introduced at such a young age to this addictive, disconnected lifestyle has created drug like dependencies among teens and desensitized many to sex and violence as they are daily exposed to porn and brutality online. This constant stimulation and competition for our attention also leaves many miserable, anxious and eventually feeling they have lost valuable time and years to aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds and trying to convince others that they live a perfect life.

Is there hope?

Yet this business model of enslaving us to our phones is unsustainable. History shows that when advertisers and attention grabbers go too far, the people fight back. No more so than in 1860’s Paris when an aspiring young artist named Jules Chéret discovered the “billboard” as a technological innovation in commercial advertising. By creating seven foot tall, brightly coloured posters displaying eye-catching imagery such as half dressed women Chéret quickly became widely famous as a pioneer in art and commerce and others quicky began imitating his work.

Eventually though it became all too much. The constant attention grabbing of commercial advertising stripped Paris of it’s architectural beauty and engendered a social revolt. Parisians declared war on “the ugly poster” and began lobbying the City government to limit where advertisements could be placed, ban billboards from train tracks and heavily tax them in other public spaces.

The government took aggressive action and today many of the advertisement restrictions are still in place which is why Paris remains in many parts a beautiful city, unperturbed by the constant assault of advertising.

Will a similar revolt occur today in relation to social media? It’s difficult to say, we have become so individualized, I sometimes question whether young people still have the drive to organize and mobilize on mass or whether our conception of protest amounts to signing an online petition and joining a protest Facebook page.

But I do have hope. The first sparks of rebellion are already beginning to fly. Figures released in October show that 57% of schoolchildren in the UK would not mind if social media never existed and an even larger, 71% say they have taken “digital detoxes” to escape its constant stimulation, distraction and pressures.

The BBC also reported that pupils in Kent have  set up a three-day “phone-fast”. With sixth former Isobel Webster, describing:

“There’s a feeling that you have to go on Instagram, or whatever [site], to see what everyone’s doing – sometimes everyone’s talking about something and you feel like you have to look at it too”.

One Year 10 pupil, Pandora Mann, 14, said she was a bit annoyed at the phone-fast initially, but soon realised “we don’t enjoy our phones as much as we think we do”.

“In terms of the way we view ourselves and our lives negatively,” she explained, “I think people put what they see as their best image forward – it’s not always the real image.”

Isobel said that the ban stopped her from sitting in her room scrolling through social media and encouraged her to spend her work breaks chatting to friends.

She said it reminded her “what it was like before” – when as a Year 7 (aged 12) she would spend more time socialising in person.

Kids today are showing that they are not just the most tech savvy among us they’re also the most tech sensitive. Counterculture movements are cropping up and tapping into the undercurrent of anger and disillusionment experienced by many.

Folk Rebellion is one interesting example. A movement dedicated to reconnecting people with reality, creating a more balanced relationship with tech and ‘living in the present with actual things.’ Young people are gravitating to these movements as they begin to rediscover the pleasures of physical books, reconnect with the physical world and relearn what it means to live a fulfilling life.

The resistance is rising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Storytellers are the Most Powerful People on Earth

Our entire lives are governed by stories. From the idea that certain pieces of paper are worth “$20” to the belief that to live a good life one must follow their passions, the stories we believe shape the course of our lives.

Humans have harnessed this power to co-operate in large numbers and create ordered communities governed by a common set of beliefs and inter-subjective reality. The most obvious example of this is global capitalism. We universally are told to believe in a system of ‘credit’ and that by imagining coins and paper as having real value they can be exchanged for tangible goods. We are also told to believe in brands called “Google” and “Starbucks”, countries called “France” and “India” – beliefs that have such an overarching influence on our lives we tend to forget they are the product of human storytelling rather than scientifically discovered objective facts.

As individuals we are bound hand and foot by these inter-subjective realities. If you wish to disagree and not believe in money or government you won’t get very far. The only way to break free from such entrenched beliefs is to convince people on a mass scale to think differently. The most common way of doing this is by telling new stories.

From Jesus to Karl Marx, compelling storytellers have been able to shape and influence the direction of human history. Hundreds of millions of lives have been affected both for the good and bad by the beliefs and ideas of certain individuals.

It can be disorientating to think just how powerful these stories are. Yet it’s crucially important and relevant that we begin to understand the story of planet earth we are all apart of.  In the face of global challenges such as climate change, artificial intelligence and nuclear weaponry in the hands of man-children, most people feel they are at best unimportant extras in this precarious story of the twenty first century’s fragile fight for its collective future.

Powerlessness is also a result of the ruthless individualism and isolation which is at the heart of our fundamentalist beliefs in the modern economic system. The most powerful way we can counter these feelings and pave the way for change is to begin to tell better and more optimistic stories about what the future for humans could look like.

It won’t be the politicians, the engineers nor the scientists who will solve the crises the world faces today but the storytellers who give them the reasons why.

 

The Beauty Myth: Time To Wake Up

Nothing in American culture has caused so many health problems as the Beauty Myth. The belief, due to media-crazed hype, that women must be painfully thin to be beautiful has caused both physical and mental distress for so many young women. The fact these issues are mostly ignored outside the medical community is an even larger problem. It is ignored because it affects mostly the half of the population that is thought to be unworthy of thought, women.

Using myself as an example; I have been on both sides of the weight issue and have been part of the problem. As a model in my teens and twenties, I was painfully thin and portrayed that image. I was also suffering from a common disorder among our young, anorexia nervosa. I counted every calorie, lived on salad almost exclusively, and exercised like a madwoman to maintain the weight expected of me. At five-foot-five (66 inches or 165.10 CM), that weight was an unhealthy low of one-hundred-ten pounds (50 KG); right off the BMI chart altogether at the low end. Normal weight for someone my height is roughly one-hundred-eighteen pounds (54 KG) up to one-hundred-forty-eight pounds (67 KG): and I strove to lower that even more.

 

Fast-forward to my forties, and I am attempting to find some relief from a lifetime of major depressive disorder. I was put on a medication called Remeron, a tetracyclic drug, used for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. In six months I gained a whopping one-hundred-fifteen pounds (52 KG)! Suddenly I went from the normal end of the BMI chart to the obese domain. I was devastated, as you may imagine. My delayed research indicated that researchers don’t know why, but some medications can cause weight gain of up to twenty pounds a month and change your metabolism and the way your body stores nutrients. I have struggled for the past ten years to remove that weight, with little result.

I now have all the complications you would expect from being overweight: diabetes, high cholesterol, and self-esteem issues aplenty. As a teen suffering anorexia, my self-esteem has always been largely tied to my weight. I now live with “fat discrimination” and “body shaming” as a regular occurrence. One of my oldest friends does not believe that I don’t just sit on the couch, stuffing my face with pies, cakes, and cookies. I have
been called both a cow and a pig, especially by young men.

I have now seen both sides of the beauty myth coin and would like to call attention to them both. Neither extreme is healthy, either physically or mentally, for anyone, man or woman. For men, it is different. Men don’t live under the beauty myth’s focus. Not to say, by any means, that there aren’t young men whose self-esteem is tied to body weight and image, or suffer the debilitating effects of anorexia, there are, but it is far less common than it is for young women.

Human beings come in all shapes and sizes. Many have medical issues that put them on one side or the other of a healthy weight to begin with. Most women do not meet the glorified ideal portrayed through the media naturally. We expect a young woman to be thin to be beautiful putting a tremendous strain and mental fixation on our youth. Who doesn’t want to be considered beautiful?

Especially in this media-driven, advertising society where beauty is worshiped more than any god. It forces young women who were not fortunate enough to be small-boned and low in body fat into being anorexic to fit that image, to fit in, to be good enough, loved enough. In the case of so many, like Karen Carpenter, a music icon of the seventies, it can lead to death, or at the very least, an unhealthy idea of eating. I know an eight-year-old girl whose mother put her into modeling.

She is already showing signs of developing anorexia, and she’s not alone. The age of development of these disorders drops every decade. Body shaming has become a common term because it is so prevalent in our society which is so enmeshed in social media.

The good part of social media is that people have become more aware of health and wellness. We have begun, as a culture, to educate ourselves about a healthy weight and how to achieve and maintain it. At least among some of the adult population. Our young women are still inundated by the media ideal of beauty being an unachievable or life threatening level of thin. It’s time we started to open our eyes to the problem of the “beauty myth” and start to break through it.

Michele is an American writer, a student of psychology, and a substitute teacher. You can follow her blog ‘a single step’ here: 

https://notasweknow.wordpress.com/

Teach Your Daughters To Break Glass Ceilings Not Break into Glass Slippers.

Why parents should worry less about their daughters fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering glass ceilings.

Author: Ana Rasheed

 

Attend tuition 100 hours a week. Check.

Make sure you get 4 A*’s at A-Level. Check.

Get into a Russel Group university. Check.

Get a first in your degree. Check.

Now sit at home, get a job near home and wait to get married. Urm…what?

Something I have always struggled with in my community is this disparity we seem to have between our sons and daughters when it comes to pursuing a career. (Alhamdulillah, I never faced this in my personal experience but saw many of my female peers go through something similar which prompted me to write this article.)

Parents will push and push and push from the moment we start school to college to university, endless tuitions, endless lectures, endless study groups – to ensure we are following the pre-determined path to get top grades, all the scholarships that the school budget can afford until we get that damned degree paper in our hands. Parents will impatiently wait till we graduate so they get the opportunity to hang our graduation pictures – hats, gowns and the whole shebang – on the wall (my grandma has an entire wall in her room dedicated to all our graduation pics) – a metaphorical trophy up for display for anyone and everyone to see.

But then what? Can we honestly say that we as daughters are given the same liberty and impartiality to pursue our careers with the same determination as our brothers? Can we really #jetsetgo from the onset? For many of my peers, unfortunately, I found that that was not an option.

To my dear parents out there…if you are going to educate your daughters to the same caliber and resolve as your sons, you must give them the same amount of autonomy to go and pursue their careers just like you give to your sons.

Surah Al Alaq (96: 1 – 5); Read in the name of your lord who created, created man from a clinging form. Read!”

This “read” in this ayah for me is not just subjected to us obtaining a paper education to fit the social norms we are constantly confined within as a community – but rather a continuous journey to not only attain but also implement knowledge. We encourage our daughters through laborious projects, dissertations and examination stress for 10 years of their lives, yet to what objective – have a framed degree certificate on the wall and stop achieving? Why do we expect our daughters to start slowing down after their degrees whilst we push our sons towards achieving the next milestone?!

We must ask ourselves, how are we supporting our daughters to continuously develop and learn? What are your daughters doing to break the status quo and become the next directors, managers and leaders of their companies, of their cities or their countries? What example are they setting to pave the way for other girls to follow suit. Why is it that less then 10% of executive directors in the FTSE 100 companies are female? (Guardian, n.d.)

This is a real cause for concern in our communities that we must address and work towards rectifying. The stress of getting our daughters married is sometimes so prominent that it becomes the forefront of our priorities – tunnel visioning us from being able to see the social and developmental growth that a career brings for an individual. Nothing else seems to matter then finding the right match for some, even if it means telling our daughters to “find jobs closer to home”, “nothing with too long hours”, “nothing where travel is involved” and the list of constraints can become an endless abyss if we are not careful.

The task of getting your daughter “married” should never be a hindrance to her career, rather a spring board for its success. The right partner will support your daughters in her career, not hinder her. Both can run in parallel and there is no greater example for us in this than that of the companionship between Bibi Khadija (a.s) and the Holy Prophet (SAW).

An esteemed, brilliant and independent business leader upon her own merit – one of four of the most remarkable women of mankind. Bibi Khadija traded all sorts from furniture to pottery to silk through primary commerce centres comprising from Mecca to Syria and to Yemen even. Her business was larger than all the Quraysh trades combined and infamous for its fair-dealing – gaining her the title Al-Tahira (The Pure One). Yet did her pursuit of brilliance stop when she got married? No. She only got bigger and better.

1400 years ago, in a severely male dominated Khadija was slaying in trade and commerce. So why in the 21st century are we not letting our daughters effortlessly follow this incredible example? If these are the role models we want our daughters to aspire towards, we as parents we need to pave the path for them to follow suit.

Thus, we as parents need to stay consistent, if you are educating your daughters to the highest levels, let them pursue their careers to the best of their ability. Indeed, teach your daughters to worry less about fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering glass ceilings.

Ana Rasheed is an engineer, blogger and contributing writer at the Conversation Room. You can check out her blog ankaraweb here:

https://ankaraweb.wordpress.com/

There’s no such thing as an ‘Unpaid Intern’

The legal loophole for exploitative labour is expanding at an exponential rate.

Remember the days when we used to work for money? Well welcome to the world where you work for experience in the hope that one day you’ll be lucky enough to work for money. That’s the bleak reality for many young people in Ireland today faced with little option beyond unpaid internships, emigration or unemployment.

You’d be justified in thinking such a pernicious phenomenon as not paying people for work must have caused quite a stir. Well guess what? You’re dead wrong. Unpaid internships have nonchalantly become the norm while crowds in the colosseum of public opinion fervently cheer the corporate lion as she devours the young and spoiled, smartphone generation.

Rare does a week go by without the media letting off some steam on the Avo-toast munching, millennial punching bag as the cold hard facts and figures of rent prices, extortionate mortgage rates and looming student loans are quickly dispelled by a story that a twenty-two-year-old spent 3 euro on coffee! Argument Won!

Yet with new CSO figures revealing that 500 graduates a week are leaving the country, those who were bowing to cranes and rejoicing “recovery” have been left puzzled and scratching their head. It’s not difficult to see why people who wear suits and work in Grand Canal Dock are questioning why the whining, spoilt brats are flocking in their droves.

Unpaid work is still a heavily sector-specific problem. If you want to work in a bank or corporate law firm – the moral gatekeepers of society- you can still expect to be paid handsomely. But look to the arts, academia, public health or journalism and you’ll see the vital organs of our society collapsing around us. Is there any long-term plan for their survival? For a country which prides itself on producing some of the worlds most acclaimed artists and musicians’, we seem awfully content with a bland, spreadsheet future of tech and finance.

Creative jobs are rare, generally located in Dublin and nine times out of ten contingent on previous experience. If anyone can explain to me how a young person is expected to work for free in Dublin for six months with its stomach churning rent and transport costs, please let me know.

Ivanka Trump recently gave it a go when she published a piece online entitled “how to make it work as an unpaid intern” with some brilliant advice on how to get by working for free with your measly billion dollar bank account.

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Ivanka epitomizes the classist, exclusivity of unpaid internships. “What’s the big deal just live off money from your parents?” and if the poor people really want to work in film or graphic design they can slog it out as a kitchen porter for two years, save up and get the reward of working for free in Dublin for a few months.

The argument often rolled out to justify the current dynamic is that companies simply cannot afford to pay young people and the wage of “work experience” is the best they can offer. The last time I checked non-payment for work wasn’t an option on the table for businesses and we hadn’t (yet) amended the minimum wage laws to exempt young people. But spend thirty seconds skimming Linkedin’s list of graduate entry jobs and you’ll quickly see unpaid six, even nine month “internships” being offered at an alarming rate.

The minimum wage exists for a reason. It’s not just for show. It’s to protect people from the very exploitation and systemic greed which unpaid internships are capitalizing upon through peoples’ desperation for work.

The youth unemployment rate in the EU may be decreasing but non-standard forms of employment are rising exponentially. Unpaid and unregulated internships are replacing entry-level jobs and the app economy is luring people into insecure, zero-hour contracts.

If businesses genuinely can’t afford to pay their interns the minimum wage then they are either not commercially viable enterprises or illegally and systematically breaking society’s most basic and fundamental bargain.