Tim O’Brien: Week 4

In column number four TIM O’BRIEN talks about vanity on the internet and the out-of-control ‘selfie’ culture.

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You might have noticed I don’t talk about myself that much in these columns. Let me explain why.

This summer, the prospect of writing a Tab column seemed like a pretty terrifying one. Partly, of course, because of the worryingly accurate anonymous approval system below (which I take part in often enough to have definitely secured my place in Hell), but also because of a sad but inevitable truth – people don’t care, at least by default, about each other’s lives.

Why should you care about the ups and downs of my week? I’m a complete stranger; worse still, I’m a student and therefore almost certainly have badly formed opinions about it. I can talk about general things like beards or Cindies and try to form a valid viewpoint, but the minute I turn the focus onto myself I fully expect you to just switch off.

It’s understandable. It doesn’t make you selfish for not caring that Maximus Meatchops couldn’t find a girlfriend in Fez this week, or that Annie Herpaderp fell flat on her face whilst cooking quinoa in fancy dress, verifying her own long-held suspicion that SHE’S SO KOOKY.

The problem with these is that they reek of insecurity and a desperate call for public approval. Publish this stuff alongside an anonymous comment system and it’s like giving out free flamethrowers to arsonists. It’s a recipe for drama, and occasionally it works a treat. Sadly, the recipients of the less-than-friendly comments deserve it. Not the really nasty stuff, but definitely the general air of disapproval that follows what is essentially a 600 word selfie.

Ultimately it’s a case of succumbing to vanity – to some idea that the anonymous masses might care about you and your problems. It’s the same driving force behind millions of unread blogs everywhere, and the constant need for ‘authentication of each other’s existence’.

Some say this is just the way we are as humans. But I reckon it’s more of a generational thing. Anyone born from the mid-80s onwards has become inherently vain, conditioned into it by thousands of hours crafting our online personas on Bebo or MSN Messenger at an age our supervisors probably spent hoop-rolling (or whatever they did before the internet). It has made us all deeply worried about the image we portray to others. As the creators of the term ‘instacurity’ correctly point out – ‘we live our lives to be liked… on the internet’.

A world without facebook

Image-crafting is the most obvious manifestation of this and can be seen with one glance at your Facebook news feed. In some way or another, everything that’s being posted paints a picture of someone healthy, sociable, popular, interesting, exciting, relevant, good at making Halloween costumes etc. Everyone just seems to be having so much fun!

The answer is, of course, that the bad 99% of Halloween costumes aren’t being instagrammed. For most people, the reality is buried away, kept hidden. The ingrown toenails. The ten hour Reddit stints. The solitary trips to the cinema. We don’t want people to see how boring we are, and now automatically hide away from public view the things that really make us who we are. As someone once said ‘we struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel’.

And I suppose that’s fine, in the sense it’s now the way things are done. Problem is I’ve been given a platform to talk about something interesting. The biggest mistake I could make is confuse that interesting thing with myself, as can so often be seen with this type of writing.

Prime example


I think certain contributors all over the world – the ones adding to the relentless barrage of vacuous opinions that is the internet – have a responsibility to appreciate that no one wants them to deal with their issues by publishing some deeply layered piece of supposedly ironic but actually just mindless navel-gazing. A piece seeping insecurity is more awkward to read than attempting this. And let me tell you, that’s pretty awkward.

I’m willing to accept that my column is kind of just a glorified Facebook status – but the Facebook status of someone accepting of this. I won’t bore you with the underlying mechanics of Tim O’Brien, because ultimately I know full well that you just don’t care.

Instead I’ll try and offer you arguments like this. Probably badly formed. Probably slightly empty. But a point of view nonetheless, that you are welcome to take or leave. Crucially, it’s not about me.