Social Media and Narcissism

Researchers are calling us “Generation Me” (aka: Generation Narcissism). As it turns out, I think I agree.

Based somewhat on their research, but mostly on my own observation and comparison of my grandparents’ generation with my own, I’ve come to this conclusion. My college friends are obsessed with traveling the world (35% of UNC undergrads study abroad before graduation–that does not include the ones who go overseas for community service or otherwise. Estimating the percentage of students who’ve traveled outside the US for any reason, I’d say it’s upwards of 75%), with implementing their world view of ‘the best  life,’ with packing their every waking moment either with a few friends, at a large social event or on a social media website (twitter, Facebook, blogging–and I firmly include myself in all these categories). But, really, what ever happened to solitary time with a good book…? Our conversations are saturated with the “ME” pronoun and a search for affirmation of our intellectual, athletic or social supremacy (I tend to think everyone excels in at least one of these). And as much as we can try to argue that we’re the most globally-aware generation in history–the generation who’s done the most good for the less-fortunate–be it here or overseas–I think this also goes hand-in-hand with Generation Me’s societal recognition of that accomplishment as the greatest possible good.

In other words, we celebrate our social awareness because our generation so greatly esteems social awareness and activism. We’ve been working to achieve that recognition. I’m not trying to argue that social activism is a ‘bad’ thing. I’m just pondering the ‘why’ motivating it. Leaning toward narcissism, don’t ya think?

Anyway, for those who don’t believe me (or who just want to hear someone more eloquent say this), here’s what I’ve been reading:

A Harvard Crimson columnist on how Facebook’s ‘like’ button has increased our mindless unanimity while erasing an element of serious thought and discussion (http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/5/25/button-more-facebook-likes/). As the article states:

the “like” button feels like another oversimplification of otherwise more complex and meaningful conversations. It is much easier to like a status than to write a comment, and it is true that some “likes” need no elaboration. But when we use the “like” button, we are no longer being creative by combing our minds for witty or insightful remarks to post. Even at its best, “like” is nothing but a canned response that lines up neatly next to the six other identical “likes” on any given post or article.

Columnist Val Brown on how narcissism keeps social media running (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/val-brown/narcissism-key-ingredient_b_262072.html). Without shameless self-talk/self-promotion, would we really have need for Facebook/Twitter/Flickr in the first place? Interesting column. I do not agree with the final paragraph. But here’s all you really need to take away from it:

We are all published now. We all have a presence. We all matter. Social media allows us to express ourselves, show our accomplishments, applaud ourselves. This is done in a relatively safe environment where we don’t risk negative feedback, unless of course you’ve allowed people into your network indiscriminately or just have really mean friends. We want to be known, and it’s easier to risk this online, somehow. To allow ourselves to be truly known is the biggest risk we take in friendships and romance, fearing that we will be rejected once people see who we really are. But we tell you, fearlessly, in our blogs, tweets, status updates and emails with an openness many of us do not practice in our offline relationships. It’s the digital equivalent of telling a stranger on a plane your deepest, darkest secrets.

Columnist Ross Douthat on how the self-obsession of our society led to the Weiner scandal (a barely-concealed need for reaffirmation): (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/opinion/13douthat.html). An interesting excerpt:

The idea that modern America is in thrall to self-regard dates back to the 1970s, when writers like Tom Wolfe and Christopher Lasch famously critiqued the excesses of what Wolfe dubbed the “me decade.” But a growing body of research suggests that American self-involvement is actually reaching an apogee in the age of Facebook and Twitter. According to a variety of sociologists (San Diego State’s Jean Twenge, Notre Dame’s Christian Smith, and others), younger Americans are more self-absorbed, less empathetic and hungrier for approbation than earlier generations — and these trends seem to have accelerated as Internet culture has ripened. The rituals of social media, it seems, make status-seekers and exhibitionists of us all.

Links to the research Douthat mentions:

Jean Twenge: (http://www.narcissismepidemic.com/aboutbook.html)

Christian Smith: (http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/SociologyofReligion/?view=usa&ci=9780195371796)

I itch to argue that my and my fellow peers’ narcissism is a product of our stage in life rather than our generation. College students, you know, tend to be idealistic dreamers rather than selfless rationalist beings….

But if so, when exactly will this narrow/self-centered focus die?

Thoughts?

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