We are in a paradigm shift.
We are nearly a decade into the social media revolution. Long enough for this new technology to make profound effects on personal and societal behavior. Media consumption, community engagement, and personal relationships are diligently, digitally documented due to a strong sense of entitlement, expectations of excessive (and unconditional) admiration, and grandiose sense of self-importance.
Sounds like symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, doesn’t it?
‘Echo and Narcissus’ (Fragment), John William Waterhouse, 1903
I plead guilty to these charges, and I am not sure we are witnessing something dark or sinister. Our understanding of the depth and power of social media is still barely at an adolescent level, so our actions need to be judged with some inherent vulnerability and forgiveness. We are writing the playbook as we go along.
But clearly narcissistic behavior is effective, at least as a personal or organizational marketing effort. All of us – from President Trump to my accountant – are using social media. Blasting us with news, updates, and opinions on Saturday Night Live skits. We are always telling people what we think.
Symptoms of this Age of Narcissism (named after Narcissus, the dude who fell in love with his own reflection) are most evident on social media, and its beginnings trace to the birth of reality television. MTV started it off with the halcyon series, The Real World. Seasonal casts of multi-ethnic and ambisexual players broke the white Midwest mold of our parents’ television.
Further entries like Survivor, The Apprentice (created by our Tweeter-in-Chief), and American Idol all starred normal folks plucked from obscurity and flung into fame. As cable channel growth increased, unique reality programs have reinforced one subliminal message: We can all be stars. Scholars point to the Kardashians as torchbearers of this movement but look at even more obscure hits like Jerseylicious or The Only Way Is Essex. Watching average joes on TV reinforces our belief that our lives are amazing too.
All these shows feature 21st-century everypeople. Declaring someone “star-quality” is no longer in the hands of studio bosses or networks suits. We can all be famous, we are all interesting. We trained a whole generation to think about life as a possible intersection with stardom.
Smartphones have more broadcast power then Studio 8 H originally did when it debuted Saturday Night Live, everyone is now a Not Ready For Primetime player. No cameraman or filter needed. Like our role models on cable, we all want to be famous – and we deserve it. Most reality shows or competitions look for contestants who already are famous, at least socially. Instagram stars, vloggers and bloggers alike are all groomed to build up masses. And you can do it too!
But without a team of writers working on our content streams, the easiest story to tell is our own. Social, from corporations and politics, has, therefore, become personal. And don’t you dare disagree. We aren’t talking with one another, we are yelling at one another. We issue our opinions and are only interested in affirmation. Have you tried making any intelligent debate online? Trust me, it isn’t happening.
Drawing from our own experiences and emotions allows us to barrage the echo chamber of social media with a steady stream of narcissistic message types.
No explanation needed, right?
Social posting is increasingly coming from an emotional place, which is always a personal one. Logic and facts are universal, but our emotions are personal. Sharing some is vulnerable; sharing every emotion you have crosses into narcissism.
Whether it be humblebragging or just simple honest hucksterism, we all adore using social channels to tout our own career achievements or civic successes.
Integrity and truth are abandoned, when faux-news is developed to simply further self-serving goals.
How many times have you heard this kind of statement: “And if you don’t agree with me you can unfollow!” There’s nothing more narcissistic and self-centered than demanding blind obedience. Shutting out the rest of the world’s opinions is certainly the sign of a super-massive ego.
Needing the Like
When we begin to create social content simply to get adoration and affirmation, what are we really saying?
I encourage us to look at our own messaging and identify narcissistic points. Looking at mine, I was struck by the juvenile nature of my own narrative at times. Like many, my commentary had become very personal, to the point of narcissism. Writing my thoughts down helped me identify my own screams for attention, and by recognizing it, I can get to the root of the problem.
Because while narcissistic behavior may fly for a while, it will eventually drive your audience away. And the audience that stays won’t be friends, fans or followers – they’ll be sheep.