When you waste as much time as I do staying on top of social and popular culture, there are certain trends you can't ignore, even if they do kind of stab you in the eye once in a while.
For example, I recently discovered, through the painful task of reviewing the long public history of my own writing, that I was one of the first to start using the now pedestrian "Did that just happen?" (1995) and "I know. Right?" (2005). This culminated recently in the totally immature prospect of sneaking in a wittily ironic usage of the latter in a national if nerd-oriented column where it didn't belong, just to put an exclamation point on an inside joke with a friend.
I'm that cool.*
But social and cultural trends can be much more than the adoption of slang. I've been at the forefront of the shallow task of documenting the evolution of our social and communication universe as it has exploded over the last 10 years or so via email then blogs then Facebook and Twitter, so while other people are out there rescuing people from burning buildings or discovering new surgical procedures, I can tell you if what you're saying is "dope" or not. (Bonus! Hidden Humble!)
Some trends are just personal writer tics that have inexplicably become an appreciated part of my style. These are habits like the comedic rule of threes (very hard to pull off and doesn't always work when I do it on Twitter), the single-sentence-paragraph punchline, or the creation of a capitalized single word out of two words to underline its annoyance factor.
Which bring us to Namedropping.
And also, there you go, I employed all three devices in the last two sentences, thereby proving I just can't help myself.
Namedropping is not something you say, but something you do, in a public social sense. Before the Interwebs, this practice was relegated to one-on-one conversations, dinner parties, and interviews.
There are issues with all three of these.
With the one-on-one, I've discovered that it takes way too long to get any bounce out of the fact that I once bought Tony Shaloub a beer at South By. Dinner parties are just Namedropping contests, and I'm never really quite sure that my story about Paul Westerberg isn't going to be trumped by something better.
And in interviews, I always feel kind of stupid doing it. (Bonus! Super Implied Brag!)
With the public forum the Internet has blessed/burdened us with, shameless losers like me can name drop at a frenetic pace. Plus, with Twitter, Namedropping has the backhanded side-effect of occasionally producing more followers.
The Humblebrag is much more insidious and vast. Not everyone can drop a name -- I can tell you it takes both a large social circle and a gargantuan ego. It's also pretty easy to spot and has a forgiveness factor of close to zero. We hate it.
On the flip side, we've got a pretty high tolerance for the Humblebrag, making it awkward, almost douchey, to call someone out.
It's also very hard to spot, because it can be buried in humble with a dash of brag. In fact, in most cases, I find it difficult to consciously note when I'm doing it, simply because I'm not trying to. My life just works out that way. (Bonus! Pushing the Envelope Brag!)
But once you do spot it, it's almost impossible to unsee it. It's everywhere. Dude. I mean E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E. In fact, with all the brilliant writers I know, I'm surprised I got to analyzing this trend so far ahead of the curve. (Bonus! 1X Humble 2X Brag!)
It's also, unlike Namedropping, not always wrong or annoying or toolish. Unlocking life's achievements is a goal that is meant to be shared with others, and the expansion of this practice from friends and family to Facebook is a phenomenon I jokingly attempted to deconstruct in a previous column. (Bonus! Self-promotional Brag!)
And in that, it demands the unsavory question: Does the negative effect of the Humblebrag somehow justify the validity of the straight-up brag?
Yeah, I just rocked your world.*
The Humblebrag isn't new, it's just that as we've shrunk the world via the Internet, it's now available to you and me on a larger scale. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out. (Bonus! Backhanded Humble)
And in that sense, it joins a lot of public traits we don't like -- complaining, meanness, self-examination, bullying, political discourse, going bat-shit insane.
These things aren't becoming more prevalent, they're just a lot easier to find.
(* = Doesn't qualify. No humble.)
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
6.1.11 @ 8:10a
It should actually be "pushing the outside of the envelope." Otherwise you're just sliding an envelope around.
6.1.11 @ 8:36a
Even with all the praise I get from my *real* fans on any given day, I still cry like a little girl inside from one nitpicky comment. #meanpeople #idontcarewhatpeoplethinkaboutme #mayhavepushedtheoutisdeoftheenvelopetoofarforthisjoke
6.1.11 @ 10:12a
That was fun. :D