The Act of Selling Yourself

Recently, I read a book entitled “Self Made Man” by Norah Vincent. Norah Vincent goes undercover as a man for about 18 months. In this journey, she tries to submerge herself into the male life through joining a male bowling league, going to strip clubs, going on dates, joining a monastery, working for a sales company, and joining a male therapy group of the sorts.

One of the most interesting chapters was that focused on her experience as her male disguise, Ned, in a Red Bull sales company at Clutch Advertising. Vincent describes the environment as one filled with desperation for promotions and an influx of money. The speech by the salesmen had a great deal of focus on sexual achievement and desire. The top salesmen and managers would boast of their gorgeous wives who they would have never otherwise dated had it not been for their financial success in the sales business.

“You want to be that top guy, because that’s what’s going to get you the house, the cars and the wife” Norah recalls her boss, Dano, stating (page 164).
It’s this mentality which drives people to continue working hours throughout the day selling products door to door. It hits on the necessity of confidence and, even more so, ego.

One article, “Salespeople Need More Ego, Not Less”, written by Chris Gillespie, as published by Marketo, explores the need for ego in the field of sales. It states that having a strong sense of ego– or “a person’s sense of self-esteem”, as the article defines it- not only allows salespeople to make more sales, but also to have the thick skin required to perform the job. When it comes to sales, especially when selling door to door, it can often be quite intimidating and will result in a great deal of rejection. In order to be able to not take this personally, one must have a strong sense of self to become an efficient salesperson.

An article published by Harvard Business Review entitled “What Makes a Good Salesman“, as written by David Mayer and Herbert M. Greenberg, examines the declining ability of businesses and employees to sell themselves to others. In order to increase the sales ability, a study done over seven years of field research concluded that “Our basic theory is that a good salesman must have at least two basic qualities: empathy and ego drive.” (Greenberg and Mayer, 2006). Both Greenberg and Mayer explain that good salesman have to want to sell something not because of the money, but because of a personal and ego-related drive to do so. It is this type of personal connection to the sale which sparks success.

This chapter and the focus on sales and its relation to ego is so interesting to me because I recently attended a sales pitch done by Southwestern Advantage. What I had thought would be an informational meeting about a vague summer internship a man had told my class about a few weeks prior which my friend convinced me to attend soon revealed itself to be a pitch for college students to join the company– or “start their own company”, as they like to put it”– to sell their $690 books for 80+ hours per week throughout the summer to make an average of about $8,000 (mind you, that this is an average and does not account for taxes).

What I found so interesting was the presenter of Southwestern Advantage’s own apparent boasting of how much sales had developed his self confidence- his ego- in a positive way which has set him up for the rest of his life, making him not only a hit with women but also financially secure. It was interesting to see the words of the apparent necessity of ego in sales to be so vivid in the presentation I witnessed. It makes sense to me why an ego is necessary. In the end, we all need some self confidence to survive the world. But I wonder how much ego in sales is too much, or if there even is a limit.

 

Interviews: A Balancing Act

Interviews– whether they be for a job or for joining an organization, they can be quite intimidating. The process can range from that of a group interview to one-on-one to having a board of members interview you solely. Questions can range from the most traditional “Tell us about your strengths” to more unique and unconventional questions like “If you were a color, which color would you be?”. It can be a nerve wracking and complicated process. In hopes of simplifying this, many online articles, books, and trained professionals attempt to provide tips on how to portray the best version of yourself in the allotted time allowed by the interviewers.

When it comes to the notion of ego and interviews, it is a balancing act of being able to convey one’s strengths and greatest assets in order to increase one’s chances of being hired while not letting one’s ego overwhelm the interview and turn into a bragging competition. One of the trickiest aspects of interviews is that a person must be able to demonstrate self awareness of what their weaknesses are, but not so much so that it seems as though their weaknesses outweigh their strengths.

This balancing act of offering just enough ego without ruining one’s chances is conveyed in the article “Does Your Ego Show During The Interview?” by Peggy McKee, as published by Career Confidential. McKee’s article examines not only how narcissism relates to interview skills, but also how to balance a need to convey one’s ego in an interview without overcompensating. Based off of a study done at the University of British Columbia, it was found that “those who fell higher on the narcissism scale made more eye contact, asked questions, talked about themselves, and joked around a bit…[making] them more attractive as candidates,” (McKee, 2017).

However, despite this study suggesting that people with inflated egos can make better candidates, McKee makes a point to highlight the fact that there can be too much ego conveyed in an interview, stating that “there’s a difference between a self-inflated egoist and a legitimately confident candidate” and that it is acceptable to convey your strengths if you have “healthy reasons” to do so.

In the end, it is always important when going into an interview to have a healthy sense of self confidence, while simultaneously being self aware. The interview process can often provide a platform for those with inflated egos to feel as though they can simply brag about themselves for thirty minutes. In order to truly gain the most out of the experience, however, it is best to try to implement this balancing act of one’s ego.

Ego Stroking

When it comes to working well with others, there are typically two methods of collaboration that are recommended. The first is the common advice of checking one’s ego at the door in exchange for an open mind and heart. This allows a person to be more receptive to others’ opinions and critiques without taking it as a personal attack, thus allowing the focus to solely be on the project itself and not about one’s own personal feelings. However, not all people take this advice of checking their ego at the door, which prompts the second most common advice– to ego stroke.

For those individuals who refuse to check their ego at the door, or even worse think that they did such when in reality their ego is still very much a deciding factor in their behavior, it can be difficult for others to work collaboratively with them due to greater resistance to prompting new ideas which may counter the egoistic individual’s opinion– regardless if the counter idea is better or not. The solution for this is ego stroking.

Ego stroking is typically defined as excessively complimenting a person with the intention of making them feel at ease, more self-confident, and more comfortable. It is a method seen throughout our daily lives, even in movies as one character attempts to calm another character down and put down their defenses by reassuring them of their excellence. More predominantly, we are also seeing it in current global events.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump traveled to various countries in Asia, such as China and Japan. An article by the Washington Post entitled “Asian leaders roll out the red carpet for Trump — and he loves it”, written by Ashley Parker and David Nakamura provides insight into the idea that the countries which President Trump is visiting are intentionally stroking his ego in order to garner his approval and gain favorable U.S. policies. Parker and Nakamura write “…midway through the longest foreign presidential trip in 25 years, Trump is showing that a little flattery can go a long way with him”.

Evidence of this ego-stroking being effective is explained in the article most namely by President Trump’s apparent change of heart about China after visiting the country and being greeted with “…a lavish welcome ceremony featuring a military honor guard and cannon fire at the Great Hall of the People…” (Parker and Nakamura, 2017). During his campaign, Trump “accused China of ‘raping’ the U.S. economy”, whereas during his trip he instead began whistling to a different tune when he stated that he does not blame China for its efforts to benefit its own citizens (Parker and Nakamura, 2017).

The dangers of such effectiveness of ego stroking among world leaders is what it may mean for Americans. Parker and Nakamura comment that if President Trump allows such special treatments by other world leaders to persuade his opinions of their actions and future policies, then this may begin a trend of outside leaders manipulating such a relationship with Trump to benefit their own citizens (Parker and Nakamura, 2017).

In terms of these collaborative efforts of world leaders on global and national issues, if President Trump assumes the role of the individual who refuses to check their ego at the door and instead is subject to influence when others stroke his ego, then this can lead to a manipulation of Trump and detrimental effects to Americans. If anything, this serves as a reminder to us all that when it comes to collaboration, we’d all be better off if we left our egos at the door and approached issues with a more open, focused mind.

“Sorry I’m Late, I Was Busy Trying to Be Perfect”

Procrastination– it gets the best of all of us every once in awhile, and for some, it is a regular method for accomplishing tasks. I, myself, have battled my tendencies to procrastinate tasks, and it is an ongoing battle at best. It is something which has been discussed in regards to its effects and implications with the ego many, many times, typically discussing the relation between procrastination with a fear of failing and damaging one’s reputation. This indicates that procrastination is a byproduct of people being more perfectionistic and sensitive to judgment, causing them to take a great deal of time to do something which may appear simple; thus, they procrastinate tasks to avoid having to endure the time-consuming task which will dominate their focus by putting it off till they are on a time limit.

Such actions paint procrastination as the result of diligence. However, this correlation between perfectionist tendencies and procrastination is combated by those who view procrastination as a lack of an ability to discipline oneself, making it seem more intentionally lazy. For example, the blog “14 Daily Practices to Stop Being Lazy and Overcome Your Procrastination” by DevelopGoodHabits.com links procrastination to a lack of motivation and laziness.

One article in particular attempts to resolve this debate in what procrastination correlates to– the Washington Post’s article entitled “The Real Reasons You Procrastinate– And How To Stop”, written by Ana Swanson. This article analyzes the roots behind procrastination, as well as tips which may provide people who struggle with procrastination methods to leave this stress-inducing practice behind. Although some people may be under the impression that their procrastination is not an issue and is actually a good method for completing tasks because it puts people on a time constraint, this practice can actually be quite harmful. As Swanson states, “A Case Western Reserve University study from 1997 found that college-age procrastinators ended up with higher stress, more illness and lower grades by the end of the semester,” (Swanson, 2016, par.3). These dangers which procrastination pose makes methods for preventing it to be quite important. But, as with anything, in order to solve the problem, we first must know what it is caused by.

The causes of procrastination are mostly individual, for there are different types of people who procrastinate for different reasons. In general, “…psychologists agree that the problem with procrastinators is that they are tempted to give in to instant gratification, which brings people the kind of instant relief psychologists call ‘hedonic pleasure,’ rather than staying focused on the long-term goal,” (Swanson, 2016, par.15). Procrastinators resort to accomplishing other tasks or simply finding meaningless distractions because they are more susceptible to being easily distracted and avoiding tasks. For some, this may be linked to perfectionist tendencies– people indulge in distractions in order to avoid the pressing issues they know will ultimately consume their time and energy. Others procrastinate as a way to have instant gratification not out of perfectionist tendencies, but more so a struggle with focusing in general.

Regardless of the reasoning behind why a person procrastinates, it is arguable that it all relates back to one’s ego. For those who procrastinate as a result of perfectionism, there is a direct relation to ego. This is because the procrastination stems from the person’s fear of failure and reluctance to start a task which they know will take a great deal of time to complete up to their high standards. For those who procrastinate as a result of being easily distracted and desiring instant gratification, procrastination serves as a way to protect the ego from stress and instead find pleasures to appease the ego through distractions.

Another potential reason behind procrastination is a separation of ego between the present and future self. Swanson claims that “even though we know that the person we will be in a month is theoretically the same person that we are today, we have little concern, understanding or empathy for that future self. People are far more focused on how they feel today,” (Swanson, 2016, par.22). This emotional disconnect between one’s present self and the future self which will have to face consequences of putting off tasks points to emotional preservation and concern for one’s instantaneous ego. The focus is on feeling good about oneself today, rather than embark on a task which threatens to decrease our self-confidence.

The irony of it all is that procrastination is often associated with negative feelings. Swanson argues that “once the reality of a deadline sets in again, procrastinators feel more extreme shame and guilt…for an extreme procrastinator, those negative feelings can be just another reason to put the task off…” (Swanson, 2016, par.7). These negative feelings of guilt, along with the potential for procrastinating to hinder one’s overall progress, highlight the need for those struggling to not leave their important tasks until the last minute.

How to fix perfectionism, however, is not a simple task– it is an individual process and ultimately lies in one’s own hands. In general, though, the first step is forgiveness because “Forgiving yourself can reduce the guilt you feel about procrastinating, which is one of the main triggers for procrastinating in the first place,” (Swanson, 2016, par. 37). To forgive oneself is to separate oneself from their ego and instead embrace a state of humility and self-awareness. Additionally, learning that tasks are done one step at a time and should not be put off until a person feels up to accomplishing the task is also important in teaching procrastinators that these tasks do not have to be an endless pursuit, but rather a continuous one. To do so is to not only lessen the pressure of upholding one’s ego, but to commit oneself to bettering themselves for both the present and the future. And, if anything, that is something most worthy of our time.

Dogs: The Best Security Blankets Money Can Buy

The debate over which animal makes the best pet is timeless and often centralizes on cats vs dogs, with many people concluding dogs are better than cats. The reasons for dogs being ranked higher than cats are commonly linked to dogs being seen as a “man’s best friend” who is a constant source of love and support, while cats are commonly portrayed as caring only about themselves and not their owners. Dogs are seen as providing “an incredibly powerful sense of loyalty..[and] a kind of unconditional compassion” (Fagan, 2013, par.8) while cats are “just waiting for us to die, so they can eat our yummy faces and have free range of the furniture” (Fagan, 2013, par.27).

The stereotypes of these animals makes it seem as though the unconditional love provided by dogs is more valuable than the earned love provided by the cats. This blog serves to analyze why society values unconditional love so highly, and how this may be contributing to the Age of Ego (and more specifically, my interpretation of society being enveloped in an Age of Insecurity). Also, as an avid lover of both cats and dogs, I feel a personal obligation to stand up for my feline companions.

An article published by Fox News entitled, “In the War of Dogs vs. Cats, Clear Winner: Dogs” by the Associated Press further analyzes the popular criteria by which dogs and cats are compared to determine which rises as superior. It states, as revealed by a poll through Associated Press-Petside.com, “Fifteen percent of the adults questioned said they disliked cats a lot while the number who said they disliked dogs a lot was just 2 percent” (Associated Press, 2017). This higher number of people disliking cats than dogs reveals the value within society of dog-like characteristics over cat-like. The article then goes on to explain that while the majority of adults like both cats and dogs (60%), those who prefer dogs over cats are more passionate about their dislike of cats than those who prefer cats over dogs, since 34 percent of dog owners said they disliked cats, while 5 percent of cat owners said they dislike dogs. This greater general dislike of cats rather than dogs is often linked to the idea that dogs are more trustworthy, loyal, and unconditionally loving than felines are. As one commenter, Joseph Moreus, states in the article, “Cats are all about cats but dogs are interested in pleasing their owners. Cats don’t care if they please you or not,” (Associated Press, 2017, par.4).

For argument’s sake, let’s just pretend that dogs are inherently more loyal and unconditionally loving animals than cats are. Dogs are commonly dubbed as offering love and loyalty much easier, sooner, and consistently than cats do. Why is this so important to pet owners? Why is it that we as a society value a love which comes from simply walking through the door, rather than love that develops throughout the building of a relationship?

In this rising age of ego and insecurity, people are increasingly feeling as though they are being bypassed by the ever-moving world, making them feel as if they must compete against an endless stream of technological entertainment to gain recognition for others. This intense sense of competition and pressure to always be at one’s best in order to impress and hold the attention of others can be exhausting, and is a major contributor to this rising age of insecurity. Perhaps the reason why society values canines’ unconditional, endless, and instant love is because for once, we do not have to tirelessly compete to gain such. For once, we can simply gain love and attention by our presence alone.

Dogs provide us a security blanket at the end of a long day to wrap ourselves in, filling in our gaps of insecurity through their loyalty and constant happiness with us simply being there. Cats, on the other hand, are creatures which expect such love and attention to be earned, therefore serving as a reflection of the outside world in which we must prove ourselves worthy of adoration. Maybe the reason society views dogs as superior to cats so adamantly is because they serve as band-aids for the wounds we receive in our struggle to gain attention from others in the moving world, while cats offer us PTSD of such. Cats are not inferior, but rather have higher expectations of their owners than dogs. While some admire such a quality, others equate it with having to compete for attention inside their own home. An age of insecurity feeds our need for dogs to remind us we’re valuable. Maybe once we understand that, cats won’t seem so selfish after all– and neither will we.

The Night of the Alter Ego

October 31st has been marked as Halloween Night, notorious for being an evening filled with candy, costumes, scares, and the infamous alter-ego. It not only offers the opportunity for children and adults alike to spend a night in celebration, but also a night which permits the imagination to fly. People find themselves dressing up as celebrities, characters from television shows and movies, historical figures, creations of one’s own imagination, and so much more.  

This most directly gives adults an opportunity to freely express themselves and introduce themselves once again to creative outlets. It is becoming a more common observation that as people age, their creativity diminishes. Author Josh Linkner analyzed how people, specifically United States citizens, are losing their creativity as a result of educational practices, like teaching to the test, in his article “How Kids Lose Their Creativity As They Age (And How To Prevent It)”, as published by Forbes.

In his article, Linkner explains that a Torrence test which evaluates creativity, as developed by Professor E. Paul Torrence, has found that since the 1990s, the scores of creativity among American children has consistently dropped (Linkner, 2014). Linkner then continues to explain why this is such a crucial issue and why actions must be taken to help improve these scores, for “creativity defines our ability to be successful in the workplace, and is the only factor to differentiate ourselves from robots” (Linkner, 2014, par. 3).

The cruciality of creativity in people’s lives, as well as its declining presence within American society, all works to build the importance of Halloween to promote and permit adults to reconnect to their imagination and creative tendencies in order to not only build the perfect costume, but the perfect alter ego. An alter ego is another version of oneself, in which a person takes on a different persona and characteristics that they otherwise do not normally assume. This is most commonly found with celebrities (like Mariah Carey’s alter ego Bianca and Beyonce’s alter ego Sasha Fierce) and drag queens (RuPaul’s Drag Race, anyone?).

By dressing up as one wishes without the pressure of society to conform or limit oneself, people feel free to explore new avenues and embrace a newfound confidence they may otherwise not. In fact, it has almost come to be expected that people exercise an alter ego for Halloween. Huffington Post even posted an article entitled “Last-Minute Halloween: Channel Your Alter Ego” by Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson. The whole piece focused on the advice of Derek Blanks, a celebrity photographer, on how to find and explore one’s alter ego. He advises people to reflect on what their hidden passions, fantasies, and interests are in life in order to develop a person who you may want to be but have not had the confidence or resources to yet convey (Anderson, 2011). Sometimes the point is to not even explore someone you want to be, but rather your polar opposite. As Blank states, “‘Do something out of your comfort zone, something you would be ashamed to do’” (Anderson, 2011, par. 8).

So how does the exploration of an alter ego on Halloween night contribute to this Age of Ego? If anything, I would say it is a healthy exploration of self and reconnection to the creativity many adults feel pressured to lose as they mature. Investing one’s time into developing and creating a costume and alter ego is to put aside the fear of judgment of society and truly focus in on oneself. It lessens the practice of insecurity and promotes a newfound self confidence, making it a healthy combatant to this rising Age of Ego/Insecurity.

Now, on the other hand, utilizing Halloween night as a way to gain attention and compliments from others is a completely separate issue and definite contributor to this Age of Ego. If it were up to me, I think society would be much better off focusing on developing their own Sasha Fierce instead of always trying to be Beyonce.

Born This Way?

Designer babies. A seemingly far-off idea currently, but is the potential generation of the future.  What are they? A designer baby refers to embryos which have been selected and modified through genetic engineering and gene editing. While some view this practice as a potential for diseases and disabilities to be prevented before they even begin, others worry that such a process will lead to parents selecting their embryos to have certain traits and characteristics– such as eye color, level of intelligence, etc.

There is an ethical dilemma today about whether or not the pursuit among scientists for modifying the DNA of embryos should continue, or if it is the beginning of a dark path towards a future of greater inequality and need for perfection. Those who argue for the advancement of science towards designer babies state that designer babies will allow for scientists to prevent harmful diseases and disabilities, thus allowing children an equal chance at life. Additionally, it will help reduce the odds of such diseases/disabilities from being passed down to future generations.

Dissenters argue that to allow designer babies will be to allow the dominant culture to dictate and produce what they believe to be the superior being. This will give the wealthy the ability to offer their children specific traits and characteristics, such as increased athletic ability or intelligence, and further destroy the American value of equal opportunity for all. Additionally, it may result in people who are born with diseases or disorders (whether that be mental, physical, etc.) being viewed as lesser than and undesirable.

Despite these conflicting viewpoints on whether a future towards designer babies is worth pursuing, some argue against the debate in general. There are those who argue that this is a conversation which is far too premature because the notion of designer babies is one that is too hypothetical. An article published by the New York Times entitled, “Gene Editing for ‘Designer Babies’? Highly Unlikely, Scientists Say” by writer Pam Belluck explores the idea that the science currently still has a long way to go before the idea of designer babies is even plausible, thus the debate over the ethics of the scenario is unnecessary.

Being able to alter one’s characteristics and traits beyond eye color is a widely unknown process and is extremely complicated due to the amount of genetic variations involved. In regards to height alone, some scientists predict that there are around 93,000 genetic variations. Therefore, the idea of being able to change the intelligence or athletic ability of an embryo seems highly unlikely. However, at the same stroke, most diseases and disorders are also very complicated and it is unlikely that the knowledge of how to utilize genetic editing will develop anytime soon.

The potential of gene editing is still being researched and trials are still being done, and even then there are limitations to just how far such research can go. As the article states, “According to a 2015 article in the journal Nature, a number of countries, including the United States, restrict or ban genetic modification of human embryos,” (Belluck, 2017). This puts even more barriers for scientists to discover exactly how genetic editing could work.

However, some advances in this research have been made. Recently in Oregon, an embryo was successfully modified for the first time by an international team of scientists who repaired a single gene mutation that, when defected, can lead to a serious heart disease, (Belluck, 2017). Such an accomplishment is evidence that even though the notion of designer babies seems far off, it is a possible future we may face.

So what then? If older generations of today claim that Millennials and Generation Z are egoistic because they got participation trophies and were told they were special, then what is to become of a potential generation which was genetically engineered to be “special”? How will the wealthy being able to formulate their embryos to carry specific characteristics and further advance their names impact the ability of people today to remain humble and see themselves as equals to others? While it may appear entirely hypothetical today, I cannot help but become alarmed by what the implications genetic engineering and editing may imply for the future.

I have made the argument that the youth of today is insecure but appears to be selfish. I cannot imagine the insecurities and depression which may come from a generation involving those who are born after being genetically edited with the expectation of greatness, and those who are born without genetic modification to be viewed as lesser than. It calls for greater discussion and awareness today of the impact of comparison on one’s self-confidence. It calls for greater acceptance of imperfection. And it calls for a greater knowledge of one’s own self worth.

Social Bots and Butterflies

With the increasing popularity of the internet and social media, there is greater access to forming relationships with strangers around the world. Many find this ability to be such a social butterfly within the internet world to be a positive, for it allows people to form connections and gather information they otherwise would not have if not for social media and the internet. Additionally, it allows those who are typically more introverted and have social anxiety to extend themselves through this medium and become social butterflies in a modern style.

However, common citizens are not the only ones who have become more aware of the connections and vitality the internet has to offer– programmers and scammers have to, and they’re making their own connections through something called social bots.

Social bots are computer programs which scan and project information within social media and are most common in Facebook and Twitter. They interact with humans on a daily basis. Obvious examples are Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or chat boxes which pop up when looking for assistance on a specific website (PBS Newshour, 2016).  Although some bots identify themselves as such, there are many which attempt to disguise themselves as actual people. And as this technology advances, we are experiencing greater troubles in identifying who is and is not a bot on social media

Beyond the fact that this is an issue because people are forming online relationships with bots whom they think are actual people, this is also a problem for democracy as a whole. Bots are now entering political discussions and news generation under the false guise of people and are even beginning to collaborate with one another to target people and offer them false information which serves to confirm their biases. The amount of fake news spread today by these social bots is highly concerning, for virality on social media is one of the key components in getting people to believe in something which may be entirely fake.

PBS Newshour covered this rise in social bots and their power in relation to critical elections and decisions, such as the U.S. Presidential election of 2016 and Brexit vote in the UK, through a video segment in October of last year. In this segment, it is analyzed how bots are generating many tweets which make political arguments (such as pro Trump and pro Clinton), spread and popularize false information as fact (such as Clinton’s “pizzagate”), and spread harmful propaganda (such as ISIS promotions which make it seem more attractive and popular).

In this segment, Professor Philip Howard at the University of Oxford states, “The real problem here is not all users can tell when the content comes up in their social media feeds is actually generated by these bots… Most Americans can’t distinguish these bots from real users,” (PBS Newshour, 2016). This results in information and opinions to be falsely presented as more popular and legitimate than they really are. Fake news being spread across Twitter with a high amount of likes and retweets by bots convinces the average citizen of its reliability and importance. Popularizing political opinions allows for people to feel as though they are in the majority and feel more confident in their assumptions due to the targeted projection by bots.

It’s no wonder why politics are so polarized and misconstrued today. There are thousands of machines convincing us of false information and reiterating our own ideas, thus building our own confidence in ourselves and lessening the likelihood of us to listen to opposing views or further investigate the legitimacy of the information we are receiving. We are forming relationships and gathering entail from people we believe to be real, when in actuality it is simply a programmed machine that is intended to dilute the truth.

It’s also no wonder why people are perceived as more egoistic now than before, for we are always being told we are right by “real people”. Who wouldn’t think they know best when all of their Twitter followers and friends on Facebook say they are? What must be done now is a movement towards awareness of these social bots and more careful selection of what information one believes. One method of doing such is by utilizing website “Bot or Not?” which will analyze the activity of a Twitter account in order to offer the likelihood that the account is run by a bot.

Being aware of the rising epidemic of bots and their effects on democracy and our beliefs is an important first step in solving this problem. Another is to be more accountable for our own role in the popularity of such bots.

So even though it may seem nice that everyone on your Twitter feed agrees with what you’re stating, it might be beneficial to take such agreeance with a grain of salt. And I think I am right in stating that bot awareness is crucial if we are to begin to bridge polarization and fake news– at least, all my Facebook friends say I am.

America: The Greatest Country on Earth

Many people, within and outside the United States, have heard something along the lines of America being the greatest country on Earth. Ironically, these statements dubbing America as the greatest nation demonstrates the egoistic nature of the statement, considering the fact that referring to the United States of America as simply “America” ignores the fact that America is a whole continent which encompasses other nations as well. Regardless, politicians, celebrities, media outlets, and so on have commented on America being superior to all other nations typically in an effort to boost patriotism, ease concerns with the nation, and motivate progress within the U.S..

While this idea of the U.S. being superior aligns well with the idea of there being a rising age of egoism, this ownership of an imaginary trophy for the best country has existed for much longer. The reason behind this long-standing belief? The answer lies in the common correlation between U.S. values of democracy, freedom (typically those highlighted in the Bill of Rights), and open critique of political controversies, with the dominance of the U.S above all others. 

Professor Charles M. Madigan at Roosevelt University offers further insight to why the U.S. maintains superiority through his commentary article “Despite it all, America remains the greatest nation on Earth” in the Chicago Tribune. In this article, Madigan reveals that although the U.S. has its own issues it deals with– such as violence and poverty– , it is still the greatest nation because of its awareness of its faults. Madigan argues that the ability and continuous practice by U.S. Americans of protesting, rallying, discussing, and promoting issues concerning the U.S. and its relations in hopes of correcting these issues, regardless if they work or not, makes this nation the best. “We live in the greatest nation on Earth because we are so well aware of the flaws that define us. Even in the face of frustration, we work to fix them. These are great times for people who understand that,” ( Madigan, 2016). It is because of the freedom and willingness of citizens within the U.S. to discuss the faults of the nation that permits it to progress and remain constantly self-aware, therefore making it the greatest nation in the world.

However, despite these statements that the U.S.’s constant awareness of its faults is what makes it so great, there are many who counter this by stating the reign of U.S. superiority is something of the past. Just recently, I discovered a clip from the HBO series “The Newsroom” circulating FaceBook which proclaimed that “America used to be the greatest country”. The clip portrays character Will McAvoy answering the question “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?” (posed by a sophomore in college) by stating that America is not currently the greatest country in the world, but that it used to be and can be once more if the country focuses on pure intended actions rather than selfish ones.

Interestingly, in the clip he states “The first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” This statement suggests that people believing the U.S. is the greatest country in the world is part of the reason why it no longer is, because people falsely having this sort of superiority blinds them to the issues which are causing us to, in actuality, not be the greatest. So while Madigan argues the U.S. is the greatest country because of its awareness of its issues, this clip implies that believing the U.S. is the greatest creates an ignorance to the issues it possesses. So which is it? Is the U.S. so egoistic that it cannot identify its own problems, or is it so self aware of its issues that it reigns above all others?

While there is no clear answer, I would argue that it is a little bit of both. I believe the U.S. is admirable in its value and protection over the freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition, and so on in order to allow citizens the ability to challenge one another and the government directly. With the accessibility of a wide variety of information and ability to engage in politics, awareness of the issues in the U.S. is present. I once had a government teacher who stated that although many other nations have freedom and intend to provide equality, none remain as open to conversation and debate about the effectiveness of such intentions as the U.S. does.

However, although there is arguably greater awareness and activism in regards to the issues within the U.S., there is also an ignorance to many issues as well. As I see it, the 24 hour news cycle creates minimal issues into large catastrophes, often ignoring other important issues in an effort to turn towards sensationalist stories– such as what President Trump is tweeting towards the NFL rather than what his new travel restrictions are. Additionally, it’s logical that thinking you are in the greatest nation in the world would hinder your ability to objectively identify the true issues within the U.S. and its relationships, as well as the best methods for progression.

So what now? My best advice is for awareness of both sides– the strengths and limitations to the U.S.. Be aware of the important benefits of the U.S. without gloating, for there still is a lot to be learned and progressed upon. It is not a bad thing to be proud of one’s nation, but it is also important for one to be aware of its limitations. By keeping an open conversation and debate about politics, ideologies, bias, and even whether or not the U.S. truly is the greatest nation in the world, U.S. citizens are able to maintain the strengths of U.S. freedom and activism alive. The beauty is that there is no need to agree with the notion that America is the greatest nation on Earth. The debate can go on as long as we wish, because that is what U.S. American freedom is all about.

Who’s To Blame: Consumers or Programmers?

Over the past few weeks, it has been established that there is an “Age of Egoism”– or at least, there is perceived to be one (whether or not there is an age of egoism or rather insecurity is still up for debate). The debate for today is who is to blame for such a conversation to even be had.

The high utilization of technology and social media for documenting one’s daily life is often equated with a rising self-obsession among the general public, and more specifically the rising generations. Many correlate the cause of such perceived rising egoism through constant engagement of technology to consumers themselves. It’s the basic rule of supply and demand: without such a high demand for the technology which connects us to a digital world, there would be no supply. Thus, some view that consumerism has generated this sense of an age of ego. However, could it be that consumers are not the sole reason behind the dependent relationship between technology and people, but also architects of technology themselves?

Concluding that consumers are the reason for their obsession with technology seems simple enough– there is, in fact, no one directly forcing people to purchase and become attached to technology. However, this solution is too simple and one-sided for such  a complicated progression  This complex development of increasing dependency between people and their technology, as discussed in articles like “Our Obsessive Relationship With Technology” by the Huffington Post and “Why Are We So Obsessed With Technology” by Quora, includes multiple layers of reasoning behind it. One of which is consumerism, but another is the designers and architects of technology themselves.

Tristan Harris, a former Google employee, has an interesting viewpoint which contrasts the opinion that consumers are to blame for this Age of Egoism. In an article by The Atlantic entitled “The Binge Breaker”, written by Bianca Bosker, Harris explores the idea that it is the manipulation of technology by programmers which is causing such a great deal of people feeling addicted to their phones. Bosker writes, “While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself,” (Bosker, 2016).

By directly challenging the notion that consumers are the ones responsible for their desire to constantly be on apps and social media due to a lack of willpower, Harris demonstrates the complexity of this issue and a perspective which is not yet commonly discussed. He, rather than looking to consumers, looks to the people who are intentionally designing these social media platforms and apps to be addicting when put into effect; “we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us,” (Bosker, 2016).

You may be wondering, how is this possible? Harris argues that technological architects are creating technology which serves to become addicting to people by implementing social platforms which allow for spontaneous likes and comments. According to the article, this spontaneous positive feedback of likes, comments, shares, etc. through platforms like Facebook and Instagram cause a powerful release of dopamine within our brains. As we post more often, more positive feedback is given, and more dopamine is released. This can create a daily habit which leads to a need for constant posting and feedback in order to gain the same level of satisfaction as when we first started posting. The design of the platform as a space for feedback therefore begins to become an integral part of our lives in order to give us the spontaneous (and yet expected) positive feedback we desire. Harris argues that this cycle of posting to feel happy is not an unexpected side effect, but rather an intentional part of the design of the platforms themselves. Technological architects and programmers today are coming up with new ways to create an app which will capture our attention indefinitely.

Throughout this article, Harris maintains that this intention behind technological architects is a manipulation of power. He calls for a “‘Hippocratic oath’ for software that… check[s] the practice of ‘exposing people’s psychological vulnerabilities’ and restore[s] ‘agency’ to users,” (Bosker, 2016). Harris calls for greater ethical responsibility among developers to create platforms which are not meant to create an addiction. He argues that “‘There needs to be new ratings, new criteria, new design standards, [and] new certification standards,’” (Bosker, 2016) in order to begin a process towards more ethical programming.

Utilization of social media and technology today is increasingly high, causing many to label this era as an “Age of Ego”. Whether or not this is totally true, there is no denying that there is an overall increasing reliability on technology among the general public. However, this reliability cannot be traced to one single source. While consumers’ high demand is a factor, so is the design of technology itself. The need of today is for greater social responsibility all around. Consumers should be more aware of the role technology plays in their lives and how much they are allowing a device to impact their mood, esteem, and behavior. Technological architects and programmers should be more aware of the effects their addictive designs have on the general public, and focus their intention more so on the value of a design rather than how addicting it can be. If we can do that, then perhaps we can lead ourselves into an Age of Ethics instead.