Back in 2010, before Twitter became the official messaging service of the Fourth Reich, we mostly used it for the purpose of boasting. It became a revolutionary platform for the great and the good to prove just how down to earth they were, giving any multiple-award-winning actor and musician the chance to share every one of their hilarious anecdotes about waiting in line for a McDonald’s drive-through just like the plebs.
The trend birthed a hugely popular account featuring the selfless likes of Stephen Fry tweeting “Oh dear. Don’t know what to do at the airport. Huge crowd, but I’ll miss my plane if I stop and do photos … oh dear don’t want to disappoint”. The man who first noticed it, Harris Wittels, described it as “a specific type of bragging which masks the brag in a faux-humble guise. The false humility allows the offender to boast their 'achievements' without any sense of shame or guilt”. But after he tragically passed away in 2013, the beautiful people were left to their elaborate false modesty unmolested.
Now, however, the humble humblebrag has returned in a new form. Because we live in a late-capitalist hellscape eking out the last few pennies we can before the robots take all our jobs, the way we humblebrag now, according to new research by Harvard academics, is to pretend we’re too busy and overworked to have any fun. So if you use your social media to pretend to friends that you’re working too hard to take a holiday, you might be one of this new breed of dickheads.
“Movies, magazines, and popular TV shows often highlight the abundance of money and leisure time among the wealthy," said Dr Neeru Paharia, an assistant professor at Harvard, told the Telegraph.
"In recent years, featuring wealthy people relaxing by the pool or on a yacht, playing tennis and polo, or skiing and hunting are being replaced with ads featuring busy individuals who work long hours and have very limited leisure time. Displaying one’s busyness at work and lack of leisure time operates as a visible signal of status in the eyes of others."
The study echoes a particularly egregious advert for an internet startup which did the rounds last week, which suggested that the kinds of people who are too busy to sleep or eat might be “doers”, and therefore interested in earning five quid a pop for doing odd jobs online. Who even needs zero-hours contracts?