MINOT, N.D. — There’s a waiting line at the top of Mount Everest these days.
Summiting our planet’s tallest peak was, once upon a time, one of the high water marks of human achievement.
Now it has all the sex appeal of waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Only with less oxygen.
“Climbers were pushing and shoving to take selfies,” the New York Times reported recently in an article making the top of the mountain seem like a tourist trap. “The flat part of the summit, which he estimated at about the size of two Ping-Pong tables, was packed with 15 or 20 people. To get up there, he had to wait hours in a line, chest to chest, one puffy jacket after the next, on an icy, rocky ridge with a several-thousand foot drop.”
Climbing Mt. Everest is still a dangerous and expensive undertaking — the Times reports that 11 people have died so far this climbing season, with some of those deaths attributed to overcrowding — so why do it?
According to the Himalayan Database, 802 people reached the peak of Mt. Everest in 2018 alone. The novelty of this feat has evaporated. We’re maybe not that far removed from a gift shop and free wifi to help with those top-of-the-world selfies.
The competition for Mt. Everest selfies seems representative of something. A growing societal narcissism.
The Times article describes Everest tourists ignoring people who are injured or dying — literally stepping over them at times — to focus on their own quest to reach the top.
It’s me-me-me era we’re living in..
See me get my teeth cleaned.
See me make mac-and-cheese.
See me ignore the suffering of other human beings so I can post on Instagram that I was the 533rd person to climb Mt. Everest this year.
The internet has made so many wonderful things possible, but it has also made us all the stars of our own reality shows.
We’re drawn feed the always-hungry content monster.
We treat everything as though it were special until nothing seems special.
We become so desperate for the dopamine rush of likes and retweets our priorities become strange.
Some years ago I wrote a column about a man who had been targeted by a social media mob because he’d been taking some pictures near a busy public pool in Fargo. Facebook vigilantes concluded he was some sort of a creep, but the first person to contact law enforcement was the man himself.
He did so because he was terrified.
Thousands in the region were outraged enough to post insults and threats aimed at this man; none of them called the cops.
These people, supposedly motivated by a threat in their community, valued the thrill of social media over actually doing something responsible about the imagined threat.
This is where we are as a society.
It’s not a good place.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.