When I was in, oh, I guess about eighth grade, my language arts class went through a real Greek Tragedy period (great for pre-pubescent kids, right?). We read Oedipus and Antigone and all those great gory Greek stories with people popping their eyes out and missing riddles and signs and all that jazz. One of the words that kept coming up (because in eighth grade you can’t learn a word just once) was hubris. It was pretty much the undoing of every character that got undone. “Blinded by the Pride” might have been a huge hit single during this time period.
Of course, philosophers have mused about hubris for as long as they’ve been philosophizing. Where is the line between confidence and arrogance? Where is the line between proven accomplishments and well, hubris?
The unsinkable ship
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The real Titanic, not the one that Leo and Cate were on. In a lot of ways, the Titanic was a sort of a 20th century Tower of Babel. It was going to be the biggest. It was going to be indestructible. And even a few classes of society were going to be sort of almost mixed together on this sailing island of paradise. The builders in Belfast and the White Star Line cruise company were over the top with pride. Of course, this proved to be not only their undoing but the undoing of 1,500 people. The Tower of Babel turned out to be more like the explosion of the two towers on 9/11. Nothing proved to be unsinkable. Except human pride, of course.
James Cameron’s “final word”
As part of the Titanic anniversary, National Geographic has been airing a show titled something along the lines of “The Titanic: James Cameron’s final word.” The concept of the show is pretty interesting on the surface. Cameron has gathered all sorts of historical and naval experts to try to piece together exactly how the Titanic split in two and sank to the sea. Why is the stern folded over like a taco and facing the opposite direction from the bow? Why is that boiler way over there? Neat stuff like that. But almost from the beginning, Cameron seems to be a man marked by hubris. First, he notes that in order to make his film, he went on down to “dive the crash site,” as if this is something just any ole person could do. But throughout the show, you see Cameron arguing science and naval history with people who have dedicated their careers to this, and you realize too that Cameron is not REALLY trying to solve the mystery of the ship’s demise. He’s trying to figure out just how accurate his movie was. There’s a little scene from the shooting of his movie where someone tells him something should be shifted to make it more realistic and Cameron quips, “Yeah, well, I’m going to keep it that way so my movie is actually dramatic.”
Hubris. Yucky every time.
As I reported these observations to my Facebook friends and while I was agonizing over whether Cameron should be admired or criticized, a buddy of mine said, “I think maybe his butt has been kissed too much.” I think that’s probably pretty accurate. Then I got to thinking, “I wonder if that’s the case in the online world too.”
The construction of online hubris
I’ve been helping out a new blogger here and there and it’s funny to watch the process that I went through via this prism of another person’s experience. This person is monitoring their traffic every day, practically, just like I did. When they get a comment they are so excited. Sometimes they report their traffic doubled from the day before. “I could get used to that!” They tell me.
It’s pretty hard not to feel like you’re getting your butt kissed here in the online world. You have pictures of yourself plastered all over the place. All of these sites ask you what’s on your mind. Look at this site here. I can write some words and then people not only respond, but they share it! Holy smokes. One can get a big head pretty quickly that way.
Is your butt getting kissed too much?
I think perhaps some people get a little too carried away with it. For example, I feel sometimes like people with big followings on Twitter feel like just mentioning someone is a great act of charity. After all, them saying your name means some 500,000 people are seeing your name, right? I always picture the recipient tweeter bowing down and saying, “Oh…thank you for mentioning me! Thank you!”
It’s kind of creepy.
I find myself wondering if this is why a lot of people online end up talking or writing about things that they really don’t know, just like James Cameron trying to explain history to two different historians (“I mean, that is history, right?”). If you’re not an experienced marketer, why are you talking about marketing as if you’re an expert? If you don’t know much about how to motivate others, why are you calling yourself a life coach?
How can online hubris lead to your undoing? You can end up saying something really wrong and you can get called on it. You can discover that maybe people don’t REALLY think you’re so great. Your belief that you are now above basic human manners can result in you losing touch with people who really did think you were neat. It can backfire in all sorts of ways (though hopefully not in the eye-poking sort of way).
Having big online followings can be a lot of fun. It can be an ego boost. But all I have to do is mention some big accomplishment of mine to a friend not involved in this world to get myself grounded again. I can’t tell if it’s the puzzled deer in the headlights kind of look or the rolling of the eyes, but I just get the sense that most people simply do. not. care. You should remember that too, as you roll along in this heady online world. You are not unsinkable. Hubris can really weigh you down. That’s a combination to be wary of.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/toolmantim/3202458687/ via Creative Commons