One of the most vivid memories of 2013 will be Barack Obama, who was caught posing for a ‘Selfie’ with David Cameron and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. The picture obviously went viral and was much debated post that. What Obama did was cap the year of ‘Selfie’ with one of his.
This is the year when Selfie became a mainstream word. Selfie is actually internet obsession with self, where you take picture of self and post it across the social networking sites ranging from Instagram to Snapchat. The trend has moved on from just plain vanilla selfie to ‘yogis’ (selfie + yoga) and ‘belfies’ (bum + selfie) making you wonder where the obsession with self can go. What though is beyond doubt is that this bout of narcissism is being fuelled by smart phones that are now ubiquitous and in every pocket. A host of celebrities, industry titans and politicians have been bitten by the obsession of self. While some have used it as revenge against paparazzi, others have turned it into a business opportunity. Gwenth Paltrow for example launched Goop.com where she curates stuff she likes, where she peddles things that range from bizarre to obscene, (like monogrammed napkins for 14000 bucks).
The obsession with self is not limited to a selfie, it goes way beyond then just a mere snap. Selfie is a self-created advert for ‘what are you doing now’. This trend has now being used byu a variety of mobile phone apps like Klout (personal influence), Strava (cycling), Tictrac (personal dashboard) and the good old Nike+ (running). All of them do one thing, build self and create a branding for you across social networking sites.
The critical question to ask is this: is the Generation Me then a narcissistic epidemic or is it a pointer to something deeper that is happening in the society around us.
Generation Me is not a new term, it has been spoken about for some time now. There may not be one definition of this term, largely it refers to a bunch of people who have a very high self esteem, are overtly materialistic, are confident sometimes overconfident of their ability and live in a self created bubble. This is a group of people who invest a large sum on self-vanity. As expected the obsession with self cannot be seen as the good thing by the sociologist, afterall the self-obsession may be the reason behind failing global economy and falling personal relationships. After all if young teenager buys a limited edition Aston Martin Rapide and then boasts about it to all and sundry through a selfie is not the best of examples in a society. The self created video of the teenager who drove the Ferrari somewhere in Kerala that was doing the rounds this year did create a furor and may be even have forced action by the authorities.
Narcissism epidemic is real and is dangerous, especially when it starts to inflict the youngsters giving them a false sense of status and ability. Though the Generation Me is not composed of just kids, or a homogeneous audience. This is unlike most other generation nomenclature that exist. Generation Me is a sign of times, cuts across a wide swath of populace and has the ability to drive change in positive way too.
One thing that defines what the Generation Me does is build on immediacy.
There impatience that is inbuilt into the codes of conversation. As individuals they never feel that they are powerless and that they cannot change the status quo. This impatience is manifested across a range of activities that they are indulging in.
Generation Me is extremely fashion conscious, style is their currency. They shun brands that are uncool, that are not up on style quotient. More and more brands are now forced to just up their ‘looks’ quotient. Traditionally we have focused a lot more on what we deliver, and a lot less in what style do we deliver. The lack of style is now a serious business impediment. The impatience also leads them to punish brands instantly. Poor quality, poor service and even poor attitude is not tolerated and immediately commented upon. This generation is not looking at creating a social wave out of their comments, they are happy being the sole individual who took the brand to task. The brands may dismiss the individual comments, but collectively the brand owners cannot ignore this new trend
The third thing they do is do instant rejection of established order. There is no saying that existing established order is the only way to do things. They will create a new protocol and before the world realizes that becomes the new way to do things
While at one end the Generation Me is about creating individualized reality through Selfie, but at the other end they are impatient and reject old, boring and dowdy.
‘Me’ now defines who I am, and my camera defines how my ego should look.
Original Published in Financial Express Brand Wagon in January 2014