The Malta Independent 24 June 2019, Monday

The millennial herd instinct

Sunday, 30 December 2018, 08:39 Last update: about 7 months ago

My butcher recently turned up with half my order since 50 per cent of what I had originally wanted was sold out. When I politely told him that I had called him and messaged my shopping list in the morning (implying ample time to take note and put the items aside), he simply retorted: “Well, they’re gone!” No apology. He just turned tail after having been paid.

Had I not got to know his ways, I would have struck myself of his clientele list before he reached the pavement. However, in his case, I turn a blind eye. For someone who runs an organic farm (breeding first-rate poultry) and does home deliveries is not easy to come by. Nor did I end up losing out since the missing items were delivered the next evening. He redeemed himself within 24 hours. No bones about it.

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The combo of being concurrently gruff and obliging is a personality trait, though the impact of background also counts. Thankfully, he is not one of the many who have turned schadenfreude into commendable cool. And with my mind leap frogging from one association to another I got thinking of how little emphasis our society puts on courtesy and kindness; which by default soon had me ponder on what our zeitgeist gives importance to apart from ravenous greed. Here goes an incomplete but telling list of warped priorities.

 Social media redefining sadomasochism

Our deeply ingrained celebrity culture has led to assuaging feelings of inferiority by documenting our lives on social media to the extent that any notion of privacy has been annihilated, while turning us into pathetically needy twits. It is now deemed perfectly normal to take pictures of dining out before taking the first bite – ensuring a close-up of some exotic dish or pricey wine. Same for taking mirror selfies regularly at any time of day and night, in any state of dress or undress, and in any state of sobriety or inebriation. Curiously, images of how everyone is texting instead of chatting over a meal never goes viral. Equally peculiar are the wasted hours spent on SM. Furthermore, a person’s stature is gauged according to the number of ‘Likes’.

The inability to disconnect from Facebook or Instagram or Twitter is not just a gizmo addiction. It is an individual and collective fixation on nurturing self in virtual space that ultimately leads to depression and narcissism. But take a step back and ask: Is someone’s meal or selfie news? Are not Facebook’s ‘friends’ a travesty of real friendship? What human relationships are we nurturing? No wonder the incidence of mental health problems is on the rise.

 Parenting mutated into parental competition

That parents want the best for their kids is only natural, nor is keeping up with the Joneses a contemporary foible. Yet millennial parental competition does not merely demarcate the Alpha, Beta or Zeta types since it seeps time and energy that should be spent on listening to, guiding, and playing with the children. Consequently, most parents believe that good parenting is all about buying the priciest and trendiest clothes, toys and gadgets as well as splashing out at weekends and on holidays while ensuring that their children grow into entitled creatures unable to fend for themselves and resist the knocks life invariably has in store. Even worse is the growing trend of regarding children as an accessory. Factor in the hectic pace of today’s lifestyles, the constant texting and jabbing at tablets and sadly, real family time is history in many families. We are also grappling with an unprecedented complexity in what constitutes a family unit.

The rat race for the best job

Quitting a job after a short stint is a given in today’s world. Logical when better pay and work conditions are on offer. Yet our instant gratification culture is fuelling an unhealthy pressure to be rewarded at dizzying speed. For the goal-oriented, the catch is that the 21st century rat race in the working world has resulted in relentless multitasking, working long hours and taking work home which, when added up, are not always fully compensated for or, if so, comes at the price of mega stress and utter exhaustion. Hopefully tomorrow’s shift to intrapreneurs offers a way out. 

Success based on status symbols

Abject materialism goes back yonks, but our consumer culture has taken it to another insatiable, level. Meaning success is all about owning and flaunting a snazzy apartment in a hip location, a cool car, designer clothes, expensive holidays and the newest mobile phone. What about relationships? What about love? What about the ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life that have no price tag? Could there be a mounting debt beneath the glitzy facade? 

Personal comfort championing sheer egoism

The focus on maximising personal comfort whenever, wherever, however is disturbing to put it mildly. Remember the incident last summer when a female bus driver was told off by her passengers because she pulled up to help a man lying unconscious on the road? Remember the onlooker who would not call 112 so as not to dent his credit though calling Emergency is free? How about putting ourselves in the shoes of the man who had passed out? If we cannot be bothered to empathise with others, then we cannot expect people to be understanding when we are going through a bad patch.

It is not easy to go against the grain, but we need to think twice before embracing today’s ME-ME-ME & ONLY ME ethos.

 Noemi Zarb

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