About the author
Wiebke Aepkers is a second-year IBCoM student, currently living in Rotterdam. She used to be the Marketing manager of last year’s Arts & Culture Committee. In her free time, she likes to read classic literature, watch K-Dramas, and order Garlic Twisters from Dominos. Is a Master of procrastination, of starting heated political debates when drunk, and of finding hidden gems on Netflix
Of Auto-Renew Subscriptions and Crippling Self-Awareness
At the beginning of this year, I made a mistake I had always feared eventually making: I forgot to cancel a free trial subscription. In this particular case, it was my subscription to the New Yorker Magazine, which automatically renewed itself to a year-long subscription after I chose to ignore the numerous ‘cancel sub’-reminders I had set on my phone.
Originally, I had only signed up because of the magazine's appealing covers and, most importantly, a free tote bag. But with a freshly renewed subscription and a lot less money in my bank account at the end of the month than anticipated, I decided to at least make the affair worth my while. I started to read their weekly articles and soon discovered that I actually quite enjoyed their approaches. The authors write about topics such as Fiction, Poetry, Humor, and Culture, often taking very unique perspectives on the matters. One topic that happened to pop up ever so often was that of self-awareness. In my personal experience, I had only discussed self-awareness in a rather positive light, regarding it mostly as a valuable skill, in a private as well as professional settings. However, a particular article that I came across in last month’s issue made me reconsider my stances on self-awareness and its deeper implications. It was titled “Has Self-Awareness gone too far in Fiction?” and talked about a rather critical approach to the practice of being self-aware. The author reflects on reoccurring habits of fictional characters in books she had read in the recent past and identifies a common pattern which she decides to call the “reflexivity trap”. Basically, she points out how the characters' inner monologs reveal some of the detrimental effects of being self-aware about one’s faults or flaws. She criticizes the idea “that professing awareness of a fault absolves you of that fault—that lip service equals resistance”. She argues that this kind of mindset can paralyze us in our actions and encourage us to mock and disregard our emotions instead of creating a sense of urgency or guilt that would inspire us to action.
Even though she is talking about this topic in a context of storytelling, I found her idea to be quite relevant to my personal experiences, as I could recall instances in which I had done exactly what she described: seeing self-reflection as “the finish line” and not something to necessarily build on further. That made me question as to how we ended up assigning self-awareness such a valuable status in our society? So valuable in fact that it makes us feel so comfortable that it actually discourages us from creating meaningful change? There are probably many different reasons for this way of thinking, but I personally believe that social media, in some instances, encourage falling victim to the “reflexivity-trap”. Just think about the last time you reposted something in your story to “raise awareness”. What does raising awareness by itself actually affect? Does it help anyone? Or are we simply waiting for other people to take action? Because awareness itself won’t cut it.
Nevertheless, I think it's also important to consider how hard it is to be what is considered a “good” person, especially in times of mass media and global connectedness. We are confronted with countless crises worldwide and every single day, that it's sometimes easier to adapt to distancing yourself from a feeling of responsibility. This, of course, is in no way an excuse. But it is a possible explanation of this self-awareness fallacy. Maybe it functions as a personal protection mechanism to not get overwhelmed with responsibility? Either way, I think it is important to acknowledge this risk that the “reflexivity-trap” poses and to think about you might have fallen victim to it as well. If so, maybe start to take action, small or large, on what you think is a cause worth fighting for. Start calling yourself out whenever you feel yourself feeling too comfortable in your own problem-awareness.
This article has caused me to fundamentally reconsider my stances on self-awareness, which is why I thought it worth sharing with more people. If you want a more detailed explanation, check out the article yourself. I highly recommend the read! My accidental subscription to The New Yorker is running out next month and I am actually considering to renew it for another year. This time purposely.