The Humblebrag: The problem of self-promotion

Humblebrag: The problem of self-promotion

Have you ever been accused of bragging? At one time or another, we’ve all boasted about something we think will impress our friends or families. Most of us learn that touting our achievements is tricky business, lest we be labeled a braggart. It’s much better to be humble, so we are told. Humility is a virtue. Ignore it at your own peril.

Braggadocio begins at an early age. Just as soon as we become aware of the fact that our personal identities influence the way others treat us, the process of self-promotion begins. I remember grade school friends bragging about everything imaginable: a banging new BWX bike; an A on a Mrs. Smith’s latest pop quiz; a kiss with Becky behind the tire swings. There was never a shortage of achievements – material, intellectual or physical – to brag about. I got in on the action too. It became a game of one-upmanship. If bragging is synonymous with blowing your own horn, me and my tribe had tubas!

Children might be excused for this type of behaviour, after all, they are just learning the dos and don’ts of social interaction. As adults, little to no quarter is given. So what to do? How can one share personal achievements, of which he or she is proud, without being labeled a bigheaded showboat? This problem was once negotiated almost exclusively during face-to-face interactions, where body language and intonation gave the speaker and listener a better chance of reaching an understanding and of signaling intent. Now, in the Internet age, this is a problem for billions of people sharing the details of their lives on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.

For many, the solution to problem of how to share life’s proudest moments on social media without appearing to boast is to couch their emissions in self-deprecation or humility. Thus, the humblebrag was born.

In a Harvard Business School paper pertaining to humblebragging, Ovul Sezer et al. defined the phenomenon as simply “bragging in the guise of a complaint.” For example: “Agh! I spilled my coffee all over my brand new Hermès bag!” or, “I wish I wasn’t so generous with my time! Now I’m running late for my next meeting!” or, “Being in Hawaii again is so amazing, but if I go out in my bikini, I’m so white I might blind the locals.” But is this an effective self-presentation strategy? In a word: No.

Humblebrags tend to backfire when the audience perceives an ulterior motive behind the message. The attempt mask the brag with an appeal to sympathy or false humility can come off as insincere.

So why are people doing it? Ovul Sezer et al. posit, people “wish to be viewed positively and attend closely to how they present themselves in social interactions. A commonly used impression-management strategy is self-promotion, which allows individuals to bring their good qualities to other’s attention.” It’s pretty easy to understand that people generally want to be perceived positively by others. Entire industries have risen up with the purpose of helping people improve their image.

Sometimes a little bragging is necessary. In an economy where jobs are scarce and competition fierce, effective self-promotion is a critical skill to develop. Interestingly, research shows there are ways to communicate your finer qualities in such a way that you are less likely to be seen as bragging. Two studies referred to by University of Haifa’s Nurit Tal-Or found that creating the right context for boasts was crucial. The principle is this: “self-promotion in response to a question is perceived more positively” than self-promotion that is unsolicited. In other words, bragging in the right context can be exactly the right way to self-promote.

With all the attention on the transmitters of humblebrags, receivers have largely been ignored. It’s all too easy to demonize people who are often just doing their best to fit in and earn the respect of their friends, family and peers. Rather than calling out humblebraggers, why not rejoice with them in their successes? To the humblebrag police: must you always be so keen on putting people in their place? Every social media post a person makes is representative of a individual qualities and therefore communicating some aspect of your personality. Is anyone truly innocent trying to present themselves in a positive light via social media?

Humblebragging may be a relatively new concept, but self-promotion is very old indeed. It is nothing new to shine a light on one’s best attributes in such a way as to appear humble while doing so. Social media has vastly expanded the potential audience for such self-promotion. But with people eager to hashtag a post “#humblebrag” if they sense a boast, beware how you share your next achievement.

If you have to brag, writer Alexandra Kay suggests, “boast judiciously” and “know your audience.” Keep your bragging to a minimum and think about how your audience will react. Sage advice indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media Commenting: The Terminology of Praise

As a photographer, I look at a lot of photos: adorable photos, bad photos, memorable photos and sad photos. Most of the time it’s pure voyeurism; other times it’s for creative inspiration. When I see something I like, I often leave a comment. It’s something I really appreciate when others do, so I try my best to reciprocate.

Unfortunately, most comments I receive are trivial or cliché. Terms like “nice” and “cool” are fan favourites. While I’m happy someone has noticed my work, I wish viewers would step up their commenting game. After all, there are so many words in the English language, yet most resort to the same old, tired and played-out vernacular. Flickr even has a group called “Commented with Nice” – presumably a nod to the phenomenon.

They say, it is better to give than to receive. So, over the last few months, I’ve been trying out different terms while commenting on others’ photos. One day, while I was surfing through Instagram images, I saw something really special. I fired off the comment, “This is a truly stupendous photo!” The reply was, “I didn’t know what that word meant, so I had to look it up. Thanks!” Obviously, social media commenting has real room for improvement!

The Categories

The trick to commenting with style is to recognize the three main categories of comment terminology. Firstly, there are low-level terms. Although some of the words I’ve listed below have dictionary descriptions that contravene their status as unremarkable, I am classifying them as such because they have lost their original meaning due to severe overuse. Secondly, there are mid-level terms. This is a long list, most of which are infrequently used, but are common enough that they pop up now and again. Finally, there are high-level terms. These words are typically reserved for only the most monumental of commenter reactions.

The Terms

Low-level: These are your standard compliments, props and kudos. A comment consisting of these words demonstrates a mildly impressed viewer or someone lacking vocabulary. Worse yet, the comment was the result of a lazy bot programmer. If you want to comment with style, avoid these boring words, unless of course the post really is just “good.” If you absolutely must use low-level terms, try one of the modifiers listed after the terms.

  • Awesome – Really? Does this post fill you with awe? Didn’t think so.
  • Brilliant – Fine for everyday use, especially if you’re from across the pond.
  • Cool
  • Decent
  • Excellent
  • Good
  • Great
  • Groovy – Umm, the 70s are over babe.
  • Neat
  • Nice – Like your grandma’s toilet paper doily.
  • Rad
  • Sick – Are you 14? Then don’t use this word.
  • Smashing
  • Super
  • Swell – Lame. Unless you’re using it ironically. Then it’s sick!
  • Terrific
  • Wicked – If you’re from Boston, disregard. I have no beef with you.

 

Mid-level: These words rise to the level of commendation and admiration. A comment containing any of these words is a step in the right direction. If you’re getting or giving comments like these, you’re either really impressed or feeling a bit like Stan Lee.

  • Delightful – Kind of like a spring breeze. Suitable for pictures of babies.
  • Exceptional
  • Exquisite
  • Fabulous – Yep, this word is fine for straight folks too.
  • Fantastic
  • Fascinating – Spock would be proud.
  • Gorgeous
  • Impressive
  • Incredible – Use for anything big, green and hulking.
  • Magnificent – Anything in groups of seven.
  • Marvelous
  • Outstanding
  • Phenomenal
  • Remarkable – at the very least you’re being literal right?
  • Spectacular
  • Splendid
  • Superb
  • Wonderful – If you’re German, wunderbar works just as well.

 

High-level: These words rise to the level of praise and flattery. If you’re getting comments like these, you’ve made it to the big leagues! Congratulations! If you’re using terms like these, you’re a master of social media who’s commenting with style. Well done!

  • Astonishing – Pretty much interchangeable with the next term.
  • Astounding
  • Breathtaking
  • Divine – Divas have known the power of this word for decades.
  • Glorious
  • Mind-boggling
  • Sensational
  • Stupendous – Has nothing to do with being stupid.
  • Sublime

Modifiers: Now that you’ve got the terms, mix and match these adverbs to add a little zip to any of the words above.

  • Bloody
  • Damned
  • Extremely
  • Majorly
  • Really
  • Seriously
  • Truly
  • Very

 

Missing anything?

Okay! Now you have all the tools you’ll need to take your social media commenting to the next level. If I’ve missed any novel or mundane words, please leave a comment below… in the comment box. Yep. That’s the one, right down there.

Anyone commenting with emojis gets extra points for being clever.

A Bucket List Worth Bragging About

Rethink the Bucket List

Creating a so-called bucket list has become de rigueur ever since Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson’s 2007 Hollywood movie popularized the concept. With the ubiquity of the bucket list phenomenon you’ve probably already heard your friends or family talking excitedly about their own list and all the unique and exhilarating activities they plan on doing before they kick the bucket. Maybe you’re thinking about creating your own bucket list. Maybe you already have one. Either way, it’s time to rethink what goes on it.

Unfortunately, a typical North American’s bucket list is about as predictable as a Russian election: travel to Europe, go bungee jumping, go white-water rafting, go sky diving, run a marathon.

If an alien species ever visited our planet and subsequently reviewed thousands of bucket lists in an attempt to understand human beings, they might surmise that a good life is a relatively simple affair. Just travel around, jump from high places, and test your physical endurance. The epitome of a perfect life is an Amazing Race contestant.

Obviously there’s more to life than a series of climatic experiences. Although bucket lists are not inherently bad, they are often comprised of trivial and superficial objectives — many of which are underpinned by blatant consumerist mentality. In the first-world consumer culture, experiences are everything. You don’t buy a car; you buy a driving experience. You don’t buy a steak dinner; you buy a dining experience. When self-indulgent experiences become the measure of one’s life, it’s easy to forget about our duty towards others. When we publicize our bucket lists, we are also making a statement to others about how to live. If our bucket lists are only filled with hedonistic pursuits we are, in effect, teaching others how to act. A bucket list is a representation of what society deems valuable.

Certainly, goal setting and following through on one’s initiatives is commendable — assuming they are noble and worthwhile. A common bucket list goal is “to be a contestant on Survivor”. Not exactly uplifting for humanity. For many of the world’s population the goal is simple: feed the family and keep a roof over their heads. To a mother living in Somalia, there is no time to think about skydiving. For a father living in Cuba, a trip to Europe is out of the question. While many of the privileged are busy boasting about their latest life-changing escapades others are struggling to put food on the table.

You might be thinking, that I’ve missed the point. Bucket lists aren’t supposed to be about others, you might say; they are all about the individual. However, individualism is the problem. All too often, a bucket list is nothing more than a vehicle for egocentric self-aggrandizement. It’s a way to boast about your experiences. It’s a way to brag. Surely, some people keep their bucket lists private, but the vast majority shouts it out to the world whenever they succeed in striking a goal from their list.

It’s time to rethink what goes on a bucket list. A bucket list that includes charitable, altruistic goals and activities has the potential to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. Imagine if the bucket list phenomenon could be refocused from a primarily self-centred affair, to one that included doing good deeds for others. Imagine if your friend on Facebook bragged about volunteering at a soup kitchen instead of riding in a limo.

Bucket lists can provide powerful motivation and help people enjoy and even improve their own lives. Learning new skills, paying off debts, reuniting with friends and improving one’s health are certainly worthwhile ways to spend time. Although a bucket list is always going to have a personal focus, it need not be exclusively self-centred. Start a non-profit organization; take a homeless person out for dinner; buy a musical instrument for a child who can’t afford one; help someone learn to read, bring a sick person flowers, give blood, clean up litter in a city park, adopt an abused animal. Now that’s a bucket list worth bragging about.

Wedding, Willing and Able: A Guide for Novice Wedding Photographers

It’s more than a hobby – better to call it an obsession. Not only are you passionate about photography, you’re talented too. In fact, you’ve spent the last six months impressing your friends with artistic photos of ornamental orchids, snow-covered spruce trees and that rambunctious baby gorilla at the zoo. Now your best friend Sherry has asked you to put your brand new Canon EOS 60D to use at her wedding this spring.  She has even offered to pay you $500.00. Thinking this fair, you’ve agreed, despite the fact that you have no experience taking wedding photos. You’re a bit apprehensive, but don’t fret. I know what you’re going through. I made so many mistakes during my first wedding assignment I vowed never to do another. In the years that followed, however, I gave weddings another chance. Since then, I’ve photographed dozens of weddings and during that time I’ve learned many useful lessons. A few simple strategies make all the difference between success and failure. If you want to take amazing photos while avoiding common pitfalls, just follow these simple rules.

Be prepared for a long day of work. A typical wedding assignment will include: photographing the bridal party as they prepare, the arrival of guests before the ceremony, and the actual ceremony. Afterwards, you may be asked to stay for the reception, which can last well into the night. Believe me, if you try to do this in formal shoes, your feet will feel like lead weights by the end of the day, so wear a comfortable pair of shoes.  I recommend black Nike trainers. They’ll keep your feet comfortable and won’t look out of place with dress pants. My photographer friend Derrick summed it up nicely: “Shooting a wedding is like running a marathon. You‘ve got to pace yourself and keep your energy up if you expect to make it to the finish line.” With so much to keep track of, it’s easy to forget about eating. If you do, your stomach will let you know about it. Avoid a gastronomic gaffe by snacking on high-energy foods such as protein bars, granola bars or trail mix.  God forbid your stomach gurgles audibly in the hushed silence before the bride says, “I do.” In addition, it’s important to keep hydrated. Packing heavy camera equipment will cause you to sweat and dehydrate, so bring bottled water (or better yet Gatorade) and drink regularly. By being physically prepared you can more readily focus on your primary task: taking great photos.

Get up close and personal. Famous photographer Robert Capa said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Don’t be afraid to cozy up to your subject. You might obscure the view of the guests who are trying to snap a photo, but remember: you’re getting paid to get the big shots. If you have to block the view of the audience to capture that magical moment when the bride and groom kiss, so be it. Do whatever it takes. When it’s impossible to be in close proximity, use a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200-300mm, as it will allow you to zoom in from across the room. By being close, you’ll improve the creative quality and intimacy of your images.

Finally, don’t forget to manage expectations. When the wedding is over, Sherry and her new husband Greg will be itching to see the photos. They’re sure to exclaim, “I can only imagine the photos you get with that amazing camera of yours!” as if it’s all about the camera. You may indeed have some excellent images, but never let on. Downplay their expectations by saying, “The lighting was very difficult, but hopefully we got a few really nice ones.” Once expectations are lowered, your friends will be that much more astounded and amazed by the number of winning shots you captured despite the odds being stacked against you.

Being a first-time wedding photographer is not easy, but if you follow these simple rules, you and your clients will be pleased with the results. When Sherry and Greg finally see the photos of their first kiss, or the moment he slipped the ring on her finger, they will know they made the right decision hiring you and lavish you with praise. Within a few weeks your phone will be ringing off the hook as referrals come pouring in. Engaged couples will be lining up to have you shoot their wedding. They will say, “Sherry and Greg can’t stop talking about how happy they are with your photos. Would you be interested in doing our wedding this autumn?” Being in high demand, your rates will naturally increase over time. Many top wedding photographers charge as much as $4,500 for the day. With your newfound capital you’ll be able to afford that shiny new lens you saw at The Camera Store. And when you print your new business cards, don’t be afraid to add the word ‘professional’ to your title. You’ve earned it.