The consequences of self-absorption were harshly predicted over 120 years ago in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. This Gothic novel is a condemnation of narcissism. In it, Gray is gifted a portrait of himself painted by another forefront character, Basil Hallward. As the plot progresses and Gray's vanity intensifies, his once-gorgeous portrait becomes a disgusting representation of his obsession with his own appearance. While Gray, himself, remains beautiful, the portrait becomes hideous, a constant reminder of his shallow and ugly soul.

Wilde goes as far as killing his protagonist to prove that vanity and selfishness are punishable. However, somehow over the past two centuries, our modern, Western culture has forgotten how to condemn narcissism, and instead has moved to celebrate it. We have begun to mimic the debauchery of Dorian Gray with the help of our most popular, modern medium: the internet. Still worse, it seems we have come to accept inconsequential insights and uninspired art from others on the web as satisfactory, so long as their contributions validate our own arrogance and self-importance. We are taken aback, if not astonished, when we stumble upon a reflective piece of writing or visual art on the internet, because our narcissistic culture teaches us that carefully constructed, artistic endeavors are a thing of the past. Modern web culture's ego-driven mentality sacrifices sound arguments and reflective thoughts for bulleted, self-accepting rhetoric.

An example of this trend, which seems to monopolize a number of social media networks, might be an article titled "43 Signs That Prove You Are Finding Your Purpose Despite the Fact That You Just Want Grilled Cheese." Articles like this are typically short-winded, easy to digest, and conversational. They lack the critique great art provides. Seeking personal development today is rare. Every time a new piece of mediocre insight appears on the internet, true students of literature contemplate suicide.

Much like Dorian Gray's portrait, the grotesque models of perfection which abound in our web culture are vehicles used to detach from personal shortcomings. The difference however, lies in the fact that Wilde's novel uses Gothic motifs and the supernatural to reveal the dangers of vanity. The portrait becomes ugly because Gray's self-absorption is ugly. Wilde's insights are morally sound and quite instructive; it's not okay to be shallow.

Sadly, over a century after the novel was published, manual brush strokes have become far too anachronistic and literature far too dense for our liking. Today, Wilde's masterpiece has been reduced to "36 Ways to Convince Your Grandparents That Tinder is a Respectable Method of Courtship" and the Romantic self-portrait has become the "selfie". It is possible that the shallow egocentrism of our instantly gratified culture sets out to be a joke but it doesn't seem to have a punchline.

Our egomaniacal art medium replaces the literary search for a nuanced human experience with a comfortable, self-help premise. Most people who use the internet as their news source, namely sites like EliteDaily and Buzzfeed, have little appreciation for thought; they pine only for the indulgence that comes with plentiful, public endorsements. This writing leads those who consume it to a philosophy that unapologetically eases the conscience. It contributes to a culture that willfully ignores accountability and exchanges it for gross agreeability.

Lord Henry's narcissism in Dorian Gray is comparable to our technologically advanced, yet unimaginative, web contributions. Neither teaches you how to think. Their empty words are designed to flatter and appease readers. Sadly, this conceit expands even further than such mindless articles. The summation of all things vain comes by way of Instagram photography. Instagram's popularity uncovers our culture's nosedive into the shallow waters of complete narcissism. Not only are there filters to virtually remove our physical imperfections, but there are also imaginary Digital Photography degrees handed out to any persons with an IQ high enough to determine a unique username and password. Anyone can publish. Average people with average talents submit their unwelcomed expertise on the public accounts of their followers. This should be condemned; it is dangerous to dilute the talent pool in this way. If everyone is an expert, then no one is. Unfortunately, this equalization of personal strengths and weaknesses is often celebrated instead.

So what will happen to the masses of people who are seeking validation from omniscient web authors and users? Although the delivery methods have changed substantially between the 19th and 21st centuries, today's disposable thinkers make me ponder the fate of Dorian Gray in Wilde's famous novel. Will we, like Gray, reach a point when we are unable to connect with others because our culture refuses to acknowledge personal pitfalls and thus, we live on, infatuated with our unimpressive selves? Will we, like Gray, see our own horrific portraits as "visible emblems of conscience?"

Gray could not bear the loneliness he felt once he internalized Lord Henry's aesthetic principles. With his artistic parts of himself separated from his intrinsic, moral desires, he fell victim to a barren soul and took his own life. How will our consciences be displayed? If the mediums through which we are expected to find ourselves are depthless personal reflections and second rate photography on the internet, my guess is we will remain unfound. The legacy we leave will be unlike Wilde's in the Romantic period, or even less like Piscasso's in the Modernist era; we will not unravel the complexity of the human self as it relates to the external world through our art and literature. We will instead, it seems, use arrogance and vanity to dilute a once volatile and wondrous tradition. We will kill ourselves too.

Maria Monastra is a senior English major concentrating in Women's Studies. She is a fashionable feminist who enjoys hiking, listening to Lindsey Buckingham rip the guitar, and sharing a birthday with Hugh Jackman.