How Apple started the whirlwind that changed the world forever is the waffle for today. Before the iPod, iPhone, iMac, iTunes, iWhatever, there was really only iRan, iRaq, and also iPoh, if you’re from Malaysia. In 2001, the ‘i’, interchangeable with ‘me me me’, became the new frontier. Though I was about ten years old at the time, I suspect no one really cared much about things like climate change, or global warming as it was more accurately known then. Most people were still depressed that the dotcom bubble had just burst, still lamenting over their Asian financial crisis misfortunes, and Al Gore was relatively poor and in the ‘unemployed but looking for a job’ category. It was Osama’s time in the limelight, and Obama was most likely a typo.
Fast forward to today, and the world is more convoluted than ever before. To be fair, it should be noted that Moore’s Law, semiconductors and microchips, should also share a small part of the blame. While processing speeds of semiconductors proliferated into oblivion, and Apple went along for the ride, Facebook also managed to popularize itself very quickly and unbeknownst to themselves, found a way to enable our egos to proliferate in tandem! The ‘selfie’, the now popularized noun for taking a picture of yourself, is the very manifestation of their intersection.
Previously, relatively big egos more commonly flourished amongst politicians, business leaders, athletes- basically any profession that involves winning. Now, any nobody equipped with a smart phone and the internet, plus a generous serving of positive thinking (not to be confused with self-esteem), and a desire for fame, can also play among the ranks of the most egotistic and narcissistic people in the world. One needs not look further than any pop culture website to discover the disturbing influence of the Kardashians. It is also not hard to understand why participants of reality television shows would derive great satisfaction from screeching on stage only to be humiliated by a devouring audience and a qualified (contestable) judging panel. If you’re unable to make it in the ‘real’ world, you can exercise your thumbs for some 300 hours on your PlayStation and become a virtual champion of anything! For those less motor skill inclined, Facebook or Instagram is the alternative. In fact, the duality of reality and virtual-reality is an interesting posit. Why would anyone want to suffer from their insecurities in the real world, when they can be invincible in the virtual world?
A typical exchange between two teenagers who grew up in the 2000’s could be something like this, Teenager 1: “I have 12324289 Instagram followers.” Teenager 2: “I have 13894098 followers, therefore I am more important than you are!” A new generation is growing up in a world where their most dominant measure of self-worth bears no correlation with intellectual capacity or attitude towards others. Millennials should really be called ‘iGens’, a much more descriptive and indicative title for the collective. More broadly as a professional indication of narcissism today, the number of dermatologists has increased by at least tenfold since decades past. Botox can be administered during your office hours, perhaps wherever you want (simply by alerting your therapist through your iPhone app!), and generates amazing margins. Contrastingly, heart attacks usually happen rather inconveniently. Alas, it is therefore no wonder that doctors are trading in their hearts for skin, breasts and butts.
Of course, we should definitely not forget our financiers. Our most trusted capitalist enthusiasts have become more and more obsessed with interest rates, pay rises, stock markets, and the increasingly prevalent paranoia that their best friend, or these days even their migrant maid or nanny (see important NYT article here), could be a terrorist who might ultimately detract from their money making endeavors. Ironically, the path which gave rise to ISIS today, can in part, be traced back to the military vanity of the United States. Perhaps Mr. Kim, Uncle Putin, Donald and pesky Assad, should just battle it out virtually in a round robin contest on PlayStation. Should Donald be successful, he can then tag team with Le Pen, Wilders, Farage, Erdogan, Orban, Kaczynski and maybe Modi as of late (what a concerningly large team!). PlayStation recently released a virtual reality headset so it could all get very real indeed. A few benefits would result, namely that we save on real world casualties, general nonsense, and costs, which can be subsequently reallocated to more productive things like actually fulfilling aid commitments to countries in need. In fact, if pessimism and nostalgia for the past is helping Trump and his friends usher in this exclusive kind of nationalism (invariably fueled by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter of course!), perhaps we should all buy some headsets and live in the past. American politicians can go back and live in post WWII America and learn from a society where income inequality was low and bipartisanship was high.
More holistically, what has ego and narcissism got to do with global issues today? As issues like climate change, terrorism, war and conflict, and financial crises continue to upend society and ensue misery, fear and poverty, most of the world indulges in mindless profligacy and wanton wastage. We are so consumed with self-admiration that we are convinced we must impose our value systems and mindsets onto others. At the micro level, this is called proselytizing, and at the macro level it is called hegemony. Perhaps less pressing than curing cancer, but more pressing than removing wrinkles, doctors and scientists should find a cure for incessant narcissism. But then, do people want to be cured?