The Curse of the Selfie Generation: 3 Cultural Shifts Happening Before Our Eyes

Leadership / Spiritual Formation / Technology/Social Media //

Whatever you might think of people who are obsessed with taking selfies (I’ve taken a few…so you can start there), something in the culture is changing.

Something big.

And it has implications for all of us who lead, parent and frankly, who simply live. Cultural shifts do that.

And as easy as it is to pick on millennials (people born between the early 80s and early 2000s) and call them the selfie generation, I think it’s a little broader than that.

In fact, I’ve seen the trait I’m writing about today embodied by 18 year olds, 45 year olds and even in 75 year olds.

What’s the issue?

An obsession with self. 

What if the obsession is deeper than you think?

And what if it’s harming you more and the people around you more than you think?

Three Common Ways Self-Obsession Shows Up

So where’s the evidence that we’re becoming more self-obsessed?

Here are three ways I’ve seen a shift in culture over the last few years.


1.Public platforms that get hijacked for personal agendas

You can criticize celebrities and famous people all you want, but we live in the generation where anyone can have a platform. And an age in which many people want one.

I ran headlong into self-obsessed leaders in the last few months at two very ordinary community events—one a funeral and the other a party. At both (radically different) events, the speaker seized what should have been a public moment honouring others to talk about themselves instead.

At the funeral, the pastor barely talked about the deceased, and instead talked about how he interacted with the deceased, how often he visited him, and other various tidbits about his life that frankly no one was interested in. A funeral is supposed to be about Christ and the person we’re remembering, not about the officiant.

Ditto at the party my wife and I were at. The keynote speaker, instead of speaking to and about the many people gathered, instead spoke about how excited she was to be speaking and how awesome she was. Really?

Any time you start to use a public platform for personal gain, you cross a line. You are there to serve, not to be served. I wrote more about how to ensure you don’t turn a platform into a pedestal here.

Bottom line? Whenever you strap on a mic or stand up in front of a group or crowd, ask how you can serve them and serve God.

Keep that front and centre and you won’t hijack a public platform for personal gain.


2. The dying art of great conversation

Great conversation is an art. It’s a two way exchange of ideas and so much more, usually characterized by one person taking a deep interest in the other or in an idea.

Increasingly, I’ve been in personal conversations with people of all ages (including seniors) in which true conversation has proven difficult.

In too many cases, conversation has become talking about yourself to another person, which is really not conversation at all. It’s become like a tag team, where I’ll talk about me for two minutes and then stop, so you can talk about you for two minutes, and then I’ll go back to talking about me for a bit, and then you talk about you again…and so on.

What happened to

Asking questions?

Exploring a topic?

Taking a genuine interest in someone other than yourself?

Advancing a meaningful dialogue with questions and observations?

Talking past each other about yourself is not a conversation, but increasingly it seems to pass for one.

Want a quick primer on having better conversation? This article can help.

Three of the best tips I know:

Express a genuine interest in the other person.

Ask questions.

Explore ideas.

Do these three things and not only will you never be bored, you will learn so much.


3. The death of confession

This one’s a hunch as much as anything. I could be completely wrong.

But I wonder how many Christians actually take time to confess their sins, deeply and personally. I know I have to remind myself to do this. It does not come naturally.

In a culture in which self is continually elevated and celebrated, how do you get to a place where in humility you realize you are not who you hoped to be and not what you could be?

In a very perceptive article, Tim Elmore outlines how we’re raising a generation of over-praised kids who ironically end up with high arrogance and low self-esteem.

How does confession happen in a generation that has been convinced that they are awesome and everyone else (the school system, the neighbours, the other kids, the government, that bully) is the problem?

We seem to be great at blaming. Great at judging. As I wrote about here, many of us are more like the Pharisees than we are like Jesus.

It would seem to me that people who confess their sins would be the kind of people who blame less and love more. In touch with our own sinfulness, we are more likely to approach others with compassion and humility.

Confession is essentially responsibility. Confession says God is not to blame. Others are not the blame. I am responsible for my condition and my sin. And I am trusting in a merciful Saviour to forgive me and remake me.


So What Exactly Is The Curse?

Selfishness is a paradox.

You end up being self-focused and selfish because you think it’s going to get you ahead.  But in reality it alienates you from everyone around you.

The curse of self-obsession is this: a life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone.

Think about it.

Nobody likes to be around selfish people. You don’t. I don’t.

People who devote their lives to the cause of ‘me’ ultimately find themselves alone. The very thing they hoped to gain through self-promotion and self-focus is the very thing they lose.

It’s a cruel twist.

It’s a life devoted to serving others and serving Christ that brings not only joy, but community and support.



Imagine what could happen if we got over ourselves.

Enough to leverage platforms for public good, enough to truly engage people, ideas and causes when we speak with one another, and if we confessed our sins deeply enough that we became a new creation.

Sure, Instagram isn’t going away anytime soon. And you and I might post pictures of ourselves from time to time.

But maybe those pictures would become reflections of a new, different self.


What Do You See?

I’d love to hear from you. What are you seeing?

What are some things that help you get over yourself?






About the Author

Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Community Church and author of the best selling books, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Carey speaks to North American and global church leaders about change, leadership, and parenting. Follow Carey on Twitter: