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The Bull Market in Narcissism


The booming social media industry is obviously driven by narcissism.

In the depths of my heart I can't help being convinced that my dear fellow-men, with a few exceptions, are worthless.
-- Sigmund Freud (being too mean, or too truthful?)

The fact that Fight Club, a film with a distinctly anti-corporate, anti-consumerist message, came out in 1999 is quite interesting.

Do you remember 1999?

The American economy was basically a great big hot tub party with room for everyone in the land.

The dot-com driven Nasdaq (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) rose 86%.

The most common props in hip-hop videos were bottles of Cristal and shiny suits.

The business cycle was gone -- it was all up, up, up!

And in the midst of all that, we had Fight Club's Tyler Durden delivering this message:

I see all this potential, and I see squandering. Goddamn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very p*ssed off.

I can relate to this. To a certain extent, we all want to be a big deal and we all want to feel important. Though it seems that as you age, it becomes easier to settle for less and harder to fight for something more.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of playing for the New York Mets, even though I sucked at baseball. I mean, I was really, really bad. The biggest contribution I could make to my Little League team was being willing to get hit by a pitch so I could get on base.

In high school, I started dreaming of playing guitar in a big, famous band, even though I knew I wasn't putting in the work to achieve that goal.

And in college, I imagined I'd make a fortune on Wall Street, even though, once again, I wasn't putting in the work to make it happen. My grades were so-so and I had no evidence that I was some kind of investing prodigy. There was no chance of Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) knocking on my door.

Following my college graduation in June 2001, reality finally set in as job application after job application went unanswered: Maybe I'm not predestined to greatness. Maybe I'm not that talented. Maybe I'm gonna grow up to be a working stiff in a dead-end job that's just passing time until I die.

How did I delude myself so badly for so long?

The easiest, and to me best, explanation is that we live in something of an "everyone gets a trophy" society where everyone's taught that they're special.

I don't know, maybe kids should be told no one is automatically special or even interesting, and that the only special people are the ones that work to achieve special things.

Now the reason I bring all this up is because earlier this week, I came across what may be the most interesting datapoint I've seen about anything in years.

The Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA released the results of its Freshman Survey, which is meant to identify demographic and attitudinal trends among college freshmen.

Surprise, surprise! College kids think they're awesome!

According to the new Freshman Survey results, there is a significant increase in the number of college students describing themselves as above average in terms of academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability, and self-confidence.

The BBC posted this graphic illustrating the trend:

However, while the drive to achieve is on the rise, study time is decreasing:

And while in the late 1980s, almost half of students said they studied for six or more hours a week, the figure was little over a third by 2009 -- a fact that sits rather oddly, given there has been a rise in students' self-proclaimed drive to succeed during the same period.

But even if study time stayed the same, the rise is still dramatic and increasing.
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