The cold, sad truth of the matter is that narcissism is growing, especially among Generation X and Y. Young people today feel the constant need of admiration. They feed on feeling special and are extremely sensitive to any sort of criticism. Today’s technology is feeding into that narcissistic behaviour in multiple ways.
Narcissists, more or less, are people who think of themselves far too much. They are, as they believe, a “big deal”. Social media sites, like Facebook, have understandably become the breeding ground for highly narcissistic behaviour. The Facebook user can post glamorous photo of themselves, update their friends on their current status, and even like the things they do. The entire site is based on the fact people like to tell others what they are doing; it is blatantly and unabashedly “all about me.” There are innumerable blog sites floating out in the depths of cyberspace that exist for the sole purpose of informing the world on every mundane detail of one’s life, including what they like to eat, what they think about at 3 a.m, and what TV shows they waste their time watching. Technology is promoting that being self-centred is appropriate to the point that it is now socially acceptable.
However, social networking sites aren’t the only way face that technology has allowed narcissism to spread rampantly. How people use electronics has created a “me” focused system of going through life. Have you ever tried to start a conversation with someone who has their earphones in? Or with someone who has their cell in a vice grip as they text madly and incessantly? You probably thought about it and then decided against it. Human interaction gets KO’d in the first round as soon as the Blackberry rears its head. Society’s use of cell phones and other handheld devices have made it that much easier to forgo socialization and focus on oneself. Never before has it been so easy to ignore someone who you might not find particularly interesting. Furthermore, this “me” attitude and preoccupation with ourselves can be seen in the complete lack of common courtesy; we no longer have any awareness of the world around us. Narcissistic people don’t care that their music is blaring obnoxiously out of their headphones or that their argument over their cell phone is disrupting the entire bus.
Narcissism may have always existed in human nature, but technology and the way we use it has allowed it to become uncommonly common. Technology has created a space for narcissism and we have filled it.
There’s something disheartening about the way the Internet and related communication technologies have developed in the world. The possibilities are vast and endless. Listening to vintage news reports about the Internet from the early nineties makes it seem like the Internet was poised to be some sort of virtual education utopia, but it fell short of that goal between then and now. Still, a lot of predictions from that time came true. We can read newspapers and books, share ideas with colleagues, and spread theories and ideas online. However, people mostly seem to use it not for learning, but to post silly photographs of themselves and talk about their personal lives. Social networking sites, most notoriously Facebook, seem to facilitate and breed narcissism.
But I would argue otherwise. As I stated before, the major predictions on the future capabilities of the Internet eventually came true, and few would argue that it is not a valuable resource for learning today. Information is available on nearly every subject known to man, lectures from top universities are available free to download, and scholarly journals are able to reach more readers than ever before. The Internet enables those who want to learn to learn more and learn more efficiently. It also allows those who want to be seen and noticed to be seen more and seen more efficiently. For every TED there’s a Facebook. For every iTunesU there’s a Formspring.
As journalist and activist Esther Dyson once said: “The Internet is like alcohol in some sense. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect.” (Time Magazine, Oct. 2005). This can be extended from isolation/ connectivity to learning/ attention seeking. The Internet enables both, and to say it perpetuates narcissism is like saying guns or atomic bombs perpetuate violence. They give us an outlet, a tool for performing violent actions. Narcissism is another human trait that, though easier to indulge nowadays, is not found in greater quantities than it has been in the past. There’s a reason humans across all cultures invented the spear, and there’s a reason humans flock to social networking sites. And it has very little to do with the rise of technology itself.