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Fork in the Road: The North American nightmare - Let's try to remember what's really important

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | February 2nd, 2015

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
You can tell a lot about human nature by observing how individuals behave in traffic.

There are a couple other settings in modern society that amplify our survivalist instincts. When road rage sets in, it quickly becomes every person for him/herself.

The irony of this is that by competing with each other in a race to get ahead, we end up delaying progress for everyone. Even if you’re lucky enough to gain a couple of feet in front of everyone by pulling a dick move, you will inevitably wind up behind a red light at which the adversaries you just conquered catch up with you.

The most fascinating part about this experience is listening to the insults wielded between drivers: “Can’t he/she see I’m trying to switch lanes?” “Why doesn’t he/she move so that I can make a turn?”

Though everyone is fighting for the same thing, all logic goes out the window and individuals are unable to see their common plight and instead turn on one another. In other words, it’s all about me, me, me.

This anecdote represents a microcosm of an overall trend that seems to be growing in intensity among North Americans: self-centeredness and narcissism.

The True North strong and free – like its neighbour to the south – has promoted the concept of the (North) American Dream. Based on the principles of an individualistically oriented culture, this dream encourages people to achieve success based on their individual efforts and merits.

To be clear I’m not condemning this principle altogether – it’s merely an idea that people can choose or choose not to embrace. Many a dreamer has turned into a monumental success because of their deeply ingrained belief in this concept. Those successes have in turn gone on to benefit other individuals within our society directly and indirectly by affecting our economy as a whole.

What I have a problem with is that this principle’s definition has been expanded to embrace nefarious means of getting ahead. If the end justifies the means, it doesn’t matter what those means consist of.

While I’m uncertain when this shift began to take root, I do know that two current major contributing factors of it are consumerism and social media.

Consumerism – it’s not just about buying things. If the Black Friday atrocities teach us anything, it’s that apparently accumulating stuff is so important that one will literally trample on others for it. If we were competing for lifesaving resources in a time of scarcity, this kind of behaviour could at least be justified. But chaos and destruction is the result of trying to be the first in line to get discounts on material possessions that ultimately serve wants that will inevitably be forgotten once the newest trends and gadgets hit the marketplace.

A society of consumerists is a society of individuals who chose goods to define themselves over relationships.

As it has become a commonplace means of advertising the latest and greatest, not to mention a place for breaking trends, it’s easy to see how social media works hand-in-hand with consumerism. My interest in examining the subject, however, lies in looking further at its deleterious effects on social life by exploring the many ways in which it encourages love of/for the self.

In their initial stages, social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube were primarily embraced by entertainers as a means of extending their influence and growing their followings. At present, everyone thinks they’re worthy of earning fame and fandom. My question for you is, “Have you ever stopped to wonder why?”

Not every person who inhabits this planet is exceptionally special or gifted. So why then is celebrity culture being encouraged among the masses? Distraction.

If we’re all consumed with advancing our own interests and agendas, we won’t – and don’t – focus on the needs of our society as a whole.

As much as social media has allowed countercultural movements and underdogs to gain voices, it has simultaneously distracted us from real life, real interactions and real problems, making these voices rather irrelevant in the grand scheme. We also have social media to thank for the following:

• The substitution of meaningful in-person exchanges for superficial online relationships

• Our increasingly limited attention

• A growing amassment of fake and propaganda-driven news stories

• A culture of haters whose anonymity acts as a shield from any potential repercussions stemming from their hurtful and obscene actions toward others

Perhaps we should have realized its contribution to the decimation of social interaction earlier on given that its origins lay in a rating system. When’s the last time you logged into Facebook and exclusively bore witness to postings celebrating positive moments in the lives of your friends and acquaintances – Christmas aside?

I’m not anti-Internet. Why do we choose to circulate en masse the Pam cooking spraysoaked behind of Kim Kardashian?

Both consumerism and social media are working to increase our focus on the self to the exclusion of everyone and everything else. While the original (North) American Dream promoted individualistic pursuits, it also realized that success does not merely lie in how much you have or what you’ve achieved, but in how you’ve affected others. Though it’s obvious, perhaps it’s worth stating that it’s kind of hard to have an impact when you only care about yourself.

Next time you buy something, think also about what you’re buying into. Next time you post something, think also about how – and if – it affects others.
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