Global celebrity culture is fuelling our crippling 'fear of insignificance', warns psychologist

Singers Justin Bieber, 16, and Rihanna, 22, at The 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. Their musical achievements early in life raise feelings of failure in many

Singers Justin Bieber, 16, and Rihanna, 22, at The 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. Their musical achievements early in life fuel fears of failure in others

A generation ago young people aspired to become lawyers and doctors. Now they yearn to be the next Oscar winner or celebrity pop star.

But one university psychologist has warned this is wreaking havoc with our self-image and undermining our sense of self-worth.

Over recent years people around the world have been suffering from an increasing fear of their own 'insignificance', according to Dr Carlo Strenger of Tel Aviv University.

He began an interdisciplinary project on the phenomenon 10 years ago, after noticing a surge of this fear in his own patients.

His findings, presented in a new book, notes hundreds of research projects that have charted an unprecedented increase in levels of anxiety and depression.

By using a wide-ranging framework Dr Strenger thinks he has pinpointed the cause.

'The impact of the global infotainment network on the individual is to blame,' he said.

'A new species is born: homo globalis - global man - and we are defined by our intimate connection to the global infotainment network, which has turned ranking and rating people on scales of wealth and celebrity into an obsession.'

As humans we naturally measure ourselves to those around us, but now we live in a 'global village' we are comparing ourselves with the most 'significant' people in the world - and finding ourselves wanting.

He added that in the past being a lawyer or doctor was a very reputable profession.

Today, even high achievers constantly fear that they are insignificant when they compare themselves to success stories in the media

'This creates highly unstable self-esteem and an unstable society,' Dr Strenger said.

In his book, The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-first Century, Dr Strenger also attacks new pop-spiritualism that promises instant change and instant relief.

Instead of solving an existential unease, such resources just create ever growing disappointment. The cheap-fix guru books for instant spirituality that line airport shelves do not provide any long-term solutions, he said.

Instead, Dr Strenger says people should stop measuring their achievement through cultural fantasies of riches and celebrity, which cannot lead to fulfillment.

Young woman using a Laptop computer
post-BAFTA party Lily Cole, David Gandy

People are comparing themselves unfavourably to stars such as Lily Cole and David Gandy (right), leading to an unstable sense of self-esteem

The remedy is a process that he calls 'active self-acceptance' through a sustained quest for self-knowledge through life.

The fear of insignificance can only be overcome through strong individual and cultural identity over and above measurable achievement.

He believes that people need to invest as much time in developing their worldviews as their careers.

'Stable meaning cannot be found in cheap paperbacks. People should invest time and thought to their worldviews and self-understanding in the same way they invest in medical studies and law school,' Dr Strenger advises.

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