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

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.

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. Click To Tweet

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.

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

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.

You will never confess your sins if you believe everyone and everything else is to blame. Click To Tweet

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.

A life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone. Click To Tweet


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.

Leveraging a platform well takes time

the high impact leader

If you’re honest with yourself, how did your time management turn out in 2019?  Looking back, would you say, “Man, I was so on top of stuff, I’ve got no issues heading into 2020?”

Or are you thinking, “I need to do better with time?”

Here’s one of the challenges with time management.

Nobody’s making any more time. Everybody gets 24 equal hours in a day.

The most productive person you know gets the same amount of time you do. So why are they more effective than you?

That’s why I developed  The High Impact Leader course.

The High Impact Leader course teaches you the system that I’ve used to manage my time now for almost 15 years.

I couldn’t believe the difference this approach has made for me. Before I created the system, I was leading a fraction of what I’m leading today. I also worked more hours and I was busy exhausted. My old approach led me to into burn out.

On the way out of burnout, I realized I had to live differently.

So I started reprioritizing my time, managing my energy, figuring out how to stop getting my priorities hijacked by other people, and in the process (by accident), I became far more productive, so now I can write books, I lead a new company. I speak all over the world, host a podcast, and still actually have time for my family and for myself. I even get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.

How do you do that? I’d love to show you how to do that, in the online, on-demand High Impact Leader Course.

I’ve helped over 3000 leaders free up hundreds of hours each year and often 3 hours a day to do what they feel they never have time for and get healthier in the process.

The course is designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favor.

Many leaders who have taken it are recovering 3 productive hours a day.  That’s about 1000 hours of found time each year. That’s a lot of time for what matters most.

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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?

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


  1. Chuck on January 6, 2020 at 6:01 am

    I propose that death of confession might as well be part of a bigger death of authenticity …

  2. Frank Wood on January 5, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    The book You Are Not a Gadget by Jason Larnier discusses how the internet “culture” is destroying human relations in many ways which I think is partly relevant to this discussion. Larnier is the inventor of Virtual Reality

  3. Doug on January 5, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    Good read

  4. Vero on August 2, 2019 at 10:46 am

    I just came upon this, years later haha but thought I’de leave my comment too. Good read. Makes sense. I think that “self” is trendy right now. Terms like self love and self care, but people are confusing it with self obsession and beauty. I do think real self love and having compassion for yourself is very important, because without that you can’t care well for others. But taking selfies isn’t that, at all. Full self love takes a lot of work and you do the work in order to be a better person for others too.

  5. Anita Chowdry on September 7, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Nice post, intelligent, and thoughtful. I am not religious, but even without the Christian references, the sentiments make absolute sense. What you describe is a loss of graciousness, sensibility and nobility, replaced by crass and rather naive self-centredness. And I don’t think the younger generations are entirely to blame – gauche self-centredness also manifests itself in people who should be old enough to know better, which is even less attractive!

  6. joshcollesano on July 27, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Great post. I think your diagnosis is spot on… the content is ALL really accurate, but what stands out is the part about conversation. I think it’s because i’m someone who really appreciates a good conversation… but so often you’re right. It’s shallow and practically banter most of the time. With my generation (millenials) it’s more ironic, sarcastic, and rooted in humor.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Love that you’re bucking the trend on this one Josh. Way to go!

  7. SAMUEL McINTOSH on July 9, 2014 at 9:11 am

    This observation is a fact, a reality and regrettable truth in the third generation minds. I believe that everyone wants to be great and show how great they are without self-discipline and others being drown in the picture. We have become “crabs in the bucket,” each fighting to drag the other down just to get at the top. Only the love of God can quench our selfish desires and make us consider others who are important too. Many don’t want to bring Jesus in their lives.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 12, 2014 at 7:47 am

      Samuel…the love of God is the key to everything, isn’t it? And if we don’t have it, we are a clanging gong…

  8. Irony on July 1, 2014 at 9:29 am

    A good article from a self-titled blog with a selfie to right and at the bottom of every screen…

    • Brandt on July 1, 2014 at 10:51 am

      I think Carey was trying to point out selfishness in our world. There is a difference between “selfies” and “selfishness”. I receive credit for the work I do in the form of a paycheck. I get credit for what I do. But my focus is on helping my employer. Christians are constantly trying to take focus off self even as they use their gifts to bless others. That is freedom and agree or disagree with this article that’s what I see Carey living out of – freedom. I get your response. It’s just we have to be careful not to assume. Better to “watch our own steps” as Ecclesiastes says. That’s what I’m learning. Man, that’s my experience and it’s not easy. Love ya.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on July 2, 2014 at 1:03 pm

        Thanks Brandt. Ironically, Irony, it makes it really hard to engage with someone who’s not even real and won’t sign their name.

        And they’re not selfies btw. A photographer took them.

        I like to put a face to the name. And I enjoy interacting with people who read and comment on the blog. Hopefully we help each other and learn from one another.

        • joshcollesano on July 27, 2014 at 7:59 am

          Haters gonna hate.

          • joshcollesano on July 27, 2014 at 8:02 am

            There’s supposed to be a GIF here but it didn’t post.

          • Carey Nieuwhof on July 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm


  9. Lawrence W. Wilson on July 1, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Social media seems to push us toward the extremes of praising ourselves and criticizing others. I thought you were going to say that the two boors you mentioned used their opportunities to slam a political leader or push some such agenda. That’s just as common these days.

  10. Brandt on July 1, 2014 at 6:48 am

    Not to get all apocalyptic here but we are told that people would become lovers of self in the last days. Nope, the bible didn’t say that the last days would start October 11, 2011 😉 but it does say that that is one of the marks of the last days. The last days are not really as clear cut as the date setters make but less ambiguous than some others make. It really is helpful to look at it that way for me anyway.

  11. randy arnold on July 1, 2014 at 3:46 am

    yup…good stuff…but these shifts are not new, the cultural shift to ‘me’ happened, or at least began with noticeable impact in the 60s, where ‘self’ discovery, *fulfillment, *enlightenment, *actualization, *happiness became the driving force for everything from social policy and relationships to cultural fads, media and fashion…seeing it’s manifestation most noticeably in pop psychology, self help books and gurus, New Age and Aquarian philosophies, the shift from ‘responsibility’ (which is putting others ahead of yourself), to self indulgence and the ‘welfare’ mindset.

    the new technology just allows an easy extension of this ‘me’ mindset to a broader audience than before, and in truth also ‘validates’ it as ‘normal’ and acceptable.

    but with the new paradigm of ‘engagement’ and interaction especially in social media, it is becoming clearer to those who want to have an impact on the audience…that ‘service’ and engagement and interaction are of primary importance…and that just promoting self, quickly ends in ‘dis-engagement’…

    this lesson is still being learned as the shift evolves, first in business, because money always feels change first…but it will eventually trickle down to social structures and relationships, as ‘it’ becomes the norm and not only acceptable, but ‘required’…

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 2, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      Randy…thanks for this. You’re right. The trend is not 100% new at all. The me generation has been brewing since the 50s. And yet, I do see us moving more and more in that direction. Just an observation.

  12. Van Baird on June 30, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Ugh! Such a good post Carey!

    Way back in the day I had a Men’s Devotional Bible that had a devotion by Judson Edwards that I had printed out and framed. I might need to take a few snippets of this post and do the same!

    “I am personally convinced that this submission, this dying to self, this crucifying of pride (see Philippians 2:1-8) is crucial to our joy. We think of denying self as somber, grim-faced business when it is in truth a prelude to dancing. if you want power, learn to be assertive. If you want joy, learn to be submissive.

    The reason our death (to self) increased the joy level all around is that it also increases the love level all around. Only when we die to self can we fully love one another. Self is a devilish creature, demanding all our energy. wanting our constant attention, reaching even into our pocketbooks for favors. how can we be attuned to another’s spirit when self is making so much noise? How can we ever hope to love another when self screams for our constant care? When self is alive and well, if offers us an all-or-nothing proposition. We either pacify self, or we crucify it.”

    – Judson Edwards

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 2, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      Van…thank you for this note. So good to hear from you man.

      And thanks for your honesty and for the incredible quote from Judson Edwards. That’s a keeper!

  13. Chris Shumate on June 30, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Thinking about the death of confession, it seems to me (there’s that curse again) that the church, especially the denominations that don’t preach repentance is what is doing a disservice for confession.

    Our obsession with ourselves is causing the majority of the problem. However, I would like to take a poll of pastors and their respective congregations regarding how often they hear “Confess, Repent, Hell, and Sinner” etc.

    For instance, in some congregations, sin and confession are talked about nearly every service, sometimes to the extent that people question their faith. In other congregations there are people hell bound because “Jesus loves you” is all that is taught. Yes, Jesus loves us, but God calls us to confess and repent of our sins. Without confession and repentance we still live in opposition to God, failing to recognize His love for us.

    I am thankful I have a couple of people in my life that I can confess my sin to. They have helped me a lot in processing my true state as a redeemed from hell sinner, only by God’s grace.

    • ppackch1 on July 1, 2014 at 11:28 am

      I hear what you are saying Chris…..a concern expressed to me was that I preached too much about sin and forgiveness. When asked what I ought to preach, the comment made was, well, tell us how good we are, so we will go ad be that good…..when do we ever experience the cleansing of confession if we only focus on self…….

      • Carey Nieuwhof on July 2, 2014 at 1:07 pm

        I think when grace and truth walk hand in hand, we find life.

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