Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Seeing Status-Seeking Statements Everywhere

I follow humblebrag on twitter, and have often chuckled when the feed re-tweets people boasting about their achievements under the guise of humility. But for some reason (curator) Harris Wittels' article summarizing the most flagrant humblebraggers gives me some anxiety about supporting the feed and evangelizing for it.

Perhaps this is just the paradox of funny things losing their appeal once they are explained, kind of like growing to loathe a song once you come to realize what the lyrics actually mean.

But I think my anxiety runs a bit deeper than that. Consider Wittels' sarcastic take-down of "a very specific type of humblebrag, which is the 'some person did something great and I am very good friends with them' Humblebrag."

There's no doubt that mentioning your association with high-status people and institutions is a great way to seem high-status. But we also have to respect these would-be humblebraggers' plausible deniability, which is that they might really just be happy for their friends.

To me, it is this plausible deniability that distinguishes between having a conversation and bragging. It is typically socially acceptable to mention an accomplishment of yours if it comes up naturally in a thread that you did not initiate.

The logical conclusion of humblebrag and like-minded feeds continuing to rise in popularity is that people will become especially conscious of not bragging. Rather than making people more earnest, I think this will likely make them more mysterious. Since I'd prefer more earnestness, I say to err on the side of bragging, as long as it is real.

Full disclosure: I once sent in a tweet to humblebrag@gmail.com that I thought was a particularly good instance of humblebragging and got no response, so I might just be bitter.