Turning the corner, the man nearly walked into me. He was unaware of my presence because he had his phone held up in front of his face and was having a conversation with a person whose face appeared on the screen. Can people no longer conduct a telephone conversation without needing to be seen?
The improvement of mobile networks seems to have meant that it has been possible for the constant sharing of selfies to be superseded by the constant sharing of video of oneself.
Incurvatus in se is the way Augustine of Hippo or Martin Luther would have described it, to be turned in on oneself. It was a theological term, connected with the human propensity to sinfulness.
Presumably there are sociological or psychological terms that would describe the condition for a secular world, and, presumably, those to whom the term might be applicable would reject any such appellation.
There is an impoverishment of the spirit, in turning upon themselves, people have become blind to the world around them, and certainly blind to pedestrians who are peacefully walking down the street.
Incurvatus in se, those who lived in times past when Classics still had a place on the curriculum would call it narcissisism.
Being someone who some years ago was forced to Google the meaning of the word, it is easy to understand why people would use a word derived from an ancient Greek legend.
The story goes thus:
Narcissus was a handsome young man who arrogantly shunned all the girls who approached him. One girl in particular tried to attract his attention, but, try as she might, he ignored her. She prayed to a goddess that Narcissus would return her love, but her prayers did not work, so, in desperation, she prayed Narcissus would learn what it was like to love someone without the return of that love. The goddess heard her prayers and granted her wish.
In the forest where he lived, there was a quiet fountain and one day Narcissus went there to drink. He was surprised by a lovely sight, a beautiful image in the clear pool. It was his own reflection, but Narcissus thought it was some handsome spirit peering from the fountain.
Narcissus had never seen such a lovely creature; he immediately fell in love with himself. He moved closer to try to embrace the image, yet every time he tried to grab it, it fled away. Narcissus was so captivated that he could not bring himself to leave the pool, and he lost all desire for food and drink.
Narcissus began to talk to the image. Why did it try to escape him? Everyone else in the forest thought he was very beautiful. He remained at the pool, pining away over the image and his health and beauty faded away. Finally, he died staring at the image in the fountain, striving to embrace his one object of desire: himself.
Narcissism is an ultimately self-destructive condition. Whether it is described as incurvatus in se or selfieism, it impoverishes lives – but Saint Augustine might have told us such things.
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