It’s never your successful friends who share profound ‘inspirational’ posts, is it?

‘Yesterday has forgotten you, live for today’ – Unknown

At this time of year it doesn’t take long to stumble on some seemingly profound quote on Facebook shared by someone starting the new year in reflective, philosophical form. There it is, sandwiched between a sponsored Betfair advert and right wing status from your Sunday League captain, illuminating your newsfeed with deep, meaningful insight: “If you are always racing to the next moment, what happens to the one you’re in?”

Below it lie more pearls of wisdom: “Yesterday has forgotten you. Tomorrow doesn’t know you. Open your heart to the precious gift of today.” “If you’re lucky enough to get a second chance at something don’t waste it.” The author of all these motivational quotes is – almost always – “Unknown”.

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True say

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Thanks, Unknown

But a quick look reveals it’s very rarely your contented friends who share such cringe advice. Instead, it’s the people you left behind in your hometown, filled with negative emotion and bitter platitudes. The Ants and Chelseys at school who used to smoke on the bus bay and get kicked out of Year 8 Science for squirting hydrochloric acid and own Corsas and, by most measures, still aren’t all that successful now.

In fact, a recent study by the University of Waterloo found a strong link between lower intelligence and being impressed by profound-sounding quotes. Participants in the study were given standard mental aptitude tests and asked to classify a selection of statements as either profound, bullshit or mundane – the twist being some were made up. Those who rated fabricated statements such as “To go along the circuit is to become one with it” were found to generally be lower in intelligence, less likely to engage in reflective thinking, and more likely to hold conspiratorial or paranormal beliefs.

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But why do people share this kind of content? The problem with sharing these “deepities” is less to do someone’s character than a willingness to critically examine what one hears and reads. These wise-sounding quotes trade on people’s fears in a cynical way. It’s sad that they often assume everyone around the poster has a secret agenda, as if the world has a grand conspiracy against them. They promote a siege mentality, and this is perhaps why such posts usually appear alongside more reactionary opinions – just above the slightly racist complaints about Syria and below the UniLad video. This negative mentality forces people to write statuses saying “I’m so fucking annoyed” so friends comment “u ok hun x” and receive the reply “I’ll inbox you x”. The sharing of motivational quotes is just another cynical, sociopathic method of expression people have sadly fallen victim to online.

Herein lies the main point: the problem isn’t to do with the content of these shared quotes, or the people sharing them. After all, living in the moment and wanting to be a generous and caring person are worthwhile goals. It’s more to do with the way such sentiments are expressed and why, and what this says about our insecurities on the web.

Perhaps all this is inevitable. Perhaps in a repetitive, ironic, self-promoting online world, these people are, in a weird way, the philosophers of our time. But I can’t help feel they would be far better served writing motivational messages down in a diary or – even better – actually practising what they are so eager to preach rather than falling victim to a weird viral offloading of pseudo-profundity.