Me

Don't be That Guy, who thinks he can be as loud as he wants in public.
Don't be That Guy, who thinks he can be as loud as he wants in public. (Alberto Incrocci - )
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 2, 2008

Broad pronouncement of the week: We are entitled brats.

For immediate proof, turn on the television. Locate a reality show on Bravo or MTV. The "Real Housewives of Orange County" and their real children are halfway through a marathon of placating and whining. "The Hills" and "Newport Harbor" are stocked with people who expect to be treated with a disproportionate amount of respect, lest they erupt in a raging meltdown.

We watch these shows in horror, with a judgmental eye on their cast members, but how different are we from them? In real life, we want what we want and we want it now. No delay. No aggravation. No hassle, pain-free, our way, right away. We're a highly technical society in a land of plenty. We place a premium on efficiency and convenience. Tiny annoyances and inconveniences foul our moods and affect our behaviors. Why? And how can we get past these trivialities?

Consider this paradox: Things are becoming more instantaneous in an era when delays are rampant and increasing. There are faster flights and cars but more people in airplanes and on the roads.

What has happened, even though companies are improving service, is that "customer expectations are continuing to rise," says Roger Nunley, managing director of the Customer Care Institute in Atlanta. This can be attributed to "consumers doing business online, where they get instant gratification and quick turnarounds. That's quickly becoming the standard expectation."

Change in expectations is a generational thing, experts say. People who grew up during the Depression were happy to have a job and stuck with one for a lifetime. Many members of generations X and Y were raised in a different light. They expect a buffet of opportunities and are peeved when they don't materialize.

Narcissism and entitlement among college students have increased steadily since 1979, according to a study to be published this year in the Journal of Personality. Between that year and 2006, 16,000 college students were asked to pick between such paired statements as "I expect a great deal from other people" and "I like to do things for other people," and "I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve" and "I will take my satisfactions as they come."

The data are clear: The ascent of narcissism and entitlement is dramatic.

"What we really have is a culture that has increasingly emphasized feeling good about yourself and favoring the individual over the group," says the study's co-author, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. "And that has happened across the board, culturally, and it's showing no signs of slowing down."

To complement her research, Twenge offers evidence from the field: "I have a 14-month-old daughter, and the clothing available to her has 'little princess,' or 'I'm the boss,' or 'spoiled rotten' written on it. This is what we're dressing our babies in."

Schools have programs designed to boost self-esteem. Parents say things like, "You shouldn't care what other people think of you." We're inundated with the notions of "feeling special," "believing in yourself" and "be anything you want to be." Twenge ponders all these messages in her book "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before" (Free Press, 2006).

Quite a title, but doesn't it feel kind of right? Twenge also coins the term "iGeneration" ("i" as in both iPod and "me, me, me"), which includes those of us born in the general range of 1981 to 1999.


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