IT IS, apparently, the fastest-spreading disease of modern times. But it doesn’t make you cough: it makes you take selfies. We are living through an epidemic of narcissism, and in All Hail Kale (Radio 5 Live podcast) Tim Samuels explored its pathogenesis.
His case study was Keir. A charming, childish, and yet knowing young man, Keir takes about 50 selfies a day, and spends a couple of hours editing them so that he can appear free of unwanted lines and bulges when these pictures are posted on Instagram. He spent £1500 recently, trying to freeze off his “love-handles”, but ended up with the same tummy fat plus extensive bruising.
Fortunately, there are doctors you can see about this kind of disorder; and Samuels takes Keir to a psychology professor at Swansea University. It seems that Keir is not the worst case he has encountered; for some, the obsessive image-creation is a full-time job, and it is these who are diagnosed with a clinical disorder. The chemical suppressant that is triggered by self-obsessive behaviour can, however, lead to poor health and susceptibility to biological disease.
The lovable Keir is not in this category; and there is a touching ending to the show when he experiences a moment of true self-revelation: he recognises the empty pursuit of approval. But it does not last long, and he is soon posting, on Instagram, carefully posed shots of himself outside the BBC.
From vacuous to essential self-expression; and Witness History (World Service, Tuesday of last week) told the story of how deaf Nicaraguan children created their own sign language. The backdrop is the new revolutionary government, established in the 1980s, which determined on universal education, including those with disabilities. Deaf children who had lived isolated lives with no incentive to communicate beyond their domestic environment were, for the first time, brought together into communities of pupils.
The linguist Dr Judy Shepard-Kegl described here what it was like to observe a language being created in front of her eyes; from simple indicative or mimetic gestures to signs governed by grammatical structures which were soon too complex for the teachers to understand. Nicaraguan Sign is now an internationally recognised language, and its rapid evolution tells us much about our innate linguistic capacities.
Kenneth Berth’s contribution to Between the Essays (Radio 3, Wednesday of last week) wittily captured the frustrations of rush hour, including an interview with a yoga teacher who freely admits to abandoning mindfulness in favour of cursing. The programme was one in a week-long series inspired by “Hope is the thing with feathers”, an uncharacteristically upbeat lyric by Emily Dickinson; although, as we all know, when it comes to traffic jams, “It’s not the despair you can’t stand; it’s the hope.”