The Millennial Obsession With Being Seen

Imagine yourself, as you are, plugged in. Matrix-style. Your mind works in code, and your body follows suit; you haven’t known a life past adolescence without blue-light rays and black mirrors in front of you. Have you ever gone a day without scrolling, tapping, or swiping? A day without numbing your mind to the reality of our world with television shows? Have you lived a day recently where you let go of the incessantly nagging notion tugging at you, in the very back dusty corners of your mind, that says, post something and remind them that you still exist, convincingly?

I bring this to your attention not to somehow flex that I am unplugged or that I do not fall victim to this lifestyle. I bring this to your attention because I am, perhaps, one of the best examples of an average Millennial falling victim to the obsession of being plugged in. Or, maybe worse, the obsession with being seen.

If we were to look at this like an illness, the symptoms would be the overuse and abuse of technology. It would be subscribing to incongruous concepts like your phone (an inanimate object) eating first (as opposed to you, a human being), participating in ludicrous activities for the sake of the ‘gram, purchasing outfits that cost inordinate amounts of money that you will most likely only wear once for the photo, and so on. These are the symptoms of a much larger, frothing illness: Addiction to validation. And, for a generation that grew up with participation trophies, I’m actually not surprised that we’re now seeking to achieve incomparable excellence.

What I do find shocking, and I must say painstakingly so, is that more people don’t recognize why they do what they do. A lot of people don’t see an issue in consistently posting everything they’re doing all the time. They don’t see a problem with doing things solely to advertise that they’re doing something that you’re not. And, I suppose the issue is more in not recognizing the operative reasoning behind your own actions. Succumbing to your own willful ignorance can be the most dangerous unlisted crime there is. There’s an art to flagrantly soaking in your own vanity, rather than trying to pretend that all of this is normal. “This” is this world that we’ve built. “This” is a world that rests on our fingertips. It’s a world where becoming a billionaire from home is more likely now than it ever has been before.

It’s also a world where we help bring awareness to more irreconcilable atrocities, ones that prove to be more detrimental to us as a society than to us as consumers. These atrocities would be less about YouTubers influencing young minds to be vaguely violent, and more about police unwarrantedly killing black men on the street. The former is dismissible because it’s part of our “culture,” while the latter is inadmissible because, once you look past the fact that killing innocent men because of the color of their skin is wrong on every level, an action like that forces those who enable the behavior itself to remind themselves that they fell on the wrong side of history. There are cracks in our armor, and every day, those who have the privilege to choose to ignore them.

Everything is under a scope, and criticized harshly. Yet, more people complain about the critiques we give one another instead of using it to their advantage. Knowing what people love and hate is a tool. But again, people that are genuinely stuck in believing that the world is not larger than their own self-made ecosystem are also stuck in believing that our world is normal. But I’ll stop with the repetitiveness of trying to define normality, because that’s a rabbit hole I don’t have the time or energy to unpack. I’ll save that for my TED Talk.

I want to loop back to this addiction that we’ve all seemed to develop in levels. I’m interested in more of an open-ended discussion with my peers, as it were. Because, I do frequently catch myself feeding into this addiction. Sometimes it’s like scratching a vaguely placed itch. It’s almost as if I’m not checked in, and my thumbs are moving of their own accord. Other times, I’m at the front wheel, 10 and 2, actively playing the game.

I know I’ve already mentioned that the obsession we have is with being seen, but in case it’s not sorely clear what I mean by this, I want to illustrate examples. Attractive women on Instagram, who (in most cases) would be otherwise talentless, have created an entire new industry where, with enough followers and content engagement, they just… get paid to be hot… and live like that. Just being hot, but all the time. There are men that do the same thing. Which, for the record, kudos to those amazing men and women who have managed to solely capitalize on their appearance. Since I do know a small (like, baby-sized) handful of influencers that have chosen that as their career path, I’ll admit to the fact that it’s a tougher career than you would initially expect. Bravo.

On the other end of the scale, there’s us. There are regular men and women, just like you and I, that post photos and tweet things that seem to be about baseless self-obsession, but are actually thinly, thinly veiled efforts to receive attention from very specific people for very specific reasons. Whether that is letting your ex know that you’re still hot, or to try to build a new persona for yourself, or (and this one’s my favorite to spot) trying to show off money that you don’t actually have through staged photos, you want a handful of people to notice.

You want those handful of people to say something. If not to say something, you want them to seethe with resentment. Pick your poison.

So, I have questions, like any God-fearing individual would.

If you can catch yourself in the moments you participate in this, does that mean you’re in control? Does it mean that you’re better? Cured? Or does it just mean you wake up every day and knowingly take the blue pill instead of having it blended into your green juice smoothie? Is technology the catalyst for this ailment, or was it man-made? Is it a problem generations prior have faced? Like anything else, is this the worst of it? How could it get worse?

Was it how we were raised?

I want to leave you, dear reader, with a concession and a challenge. I earnestly grant that there are some people that can honestly say that they don’t give into this, or at least don’t give into it so actively that they would consider it an actual problem. Hats off to them. My challenge for you all is to spend at least one day diligently checking yourself when posting anything to social media. Doing anything noteworthy, as well. Don’t stop yourself, just think about why.

Feel free to report back.