Monday, May 13, 2019

The Rise of Vanity

Key cultural transformations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the rise of letter writing, the development of photography, the mass production of mirrors, and the repudiation of religious teachings that portrayed humans as inherently flawed, slowly accustomed individuals to public self-presentation and self-promotion.

Before these psychological labels emerged, Americans thought of high self-regard as a sin, and they used the words “vanity,” “pride,” and occasionally “egotism” to describe the trait.

Yet alongside these warnings against self-love, pride, and conceit, and these stark reminders of life’s futility and the pointlessness of vanity, there gradually developed a somewhat contradictory belief in the power of self-fashioning, a belief based on a more exalted vision of human potential. It was born of Renaissance humanism, which suggested that it was worth cultivating the self and developing individual skills and strengths.

For at least the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, writers often began their letters with a ritualized affirmation of their existence. Again and again, writers reassured their readers that they were alive.
Highlights from Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Changing Feelings about Technology, from the Telegraph to Twitter

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