Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The "Me" Generation and the Role of Narcissism in the age of Social Media

What struck me as the most significant theme of our discussion was the role of narcissism, particularly as it relates to our social media interactions.  I was reminded of a Time Magazine article I read about how the millennial generation - or the “me” generation - has been raised to believe that everyone is special and everyone is a winner.  Yet paradoxically, the millennial generation has the lowest self-efficacy of any previous generation.  I think this goes hand in hand with our newly hyperlinked, technological world.  

Technology has been at the forefront of the millennial generation, and most of us are exposed to endless amounts of breaking news; largely depressing and overwhelming.  With this over-saturation of media constantly re-demoralizing us through our social media streams, it’s no wonder people feel that any attempts to make a difference would be futile. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that technology evolved in a way that allowed us to be even more at the center of our own universe.  Not only do our interests and desires control everything we see in our online communities, but we now have the chance to be microcelebrities in our own social network world.  Sure we aren’t celebrities in the traditional sense of the term, but to our networks for friends and followers we feel self-righteous and empowered by likes, retweets, and complimentary posts.  We also possess the savoir faire for maximizing our positive feedback, such as bribing others to pay you attention by commenting and liking their posts, with the expectation they will return the kind gesture.  I’m reminded of the article “Microcelebrity and the Branded Self” by Theresa Senft, in which she states,

the Internet has become a stage, and a successful person doesn’t just maintain a place on that stage; she manages her online self with the sort of care and consistency normally exhibited by those who have historically believed themselves to be their own product: artists and entrepreneurs. Yet, at the same time that people are beginning to perceive a coherent online presence as a good and useful thing, they are also learning that negative publicity can be quite dangerous to one’s employment, relationships, and self-image.”

Our discussion made me wonder – could all the negative hate speech online actually be people holding back? Is it perhaps even worse?  We feel “safe” in our curated online communities, but I think everyone understands there is a sense of surveillance to it.  After all, potential employers could be looking at our pictures, comments and tweets.  I’d be curious to know the extent to which people are censoring themselves for this reason, and on the flip side, to which they’re sharing content that they just think they should share to be an “involved citizen”?  By the observer effect, where the act of being observed makes one alter behavior, our online presence is by definition not us being our true selves (although we have all seen that person who posts as if they are oblivious to how they appear to a wide audience), but rather curating our ideal self. Hence people sharing articles they haven’t even read, or signing online petitions of support for political movements, but never taking that activism much further.

We also touched upon the question of which is stronger, desire or narcissism.  I would argue that narcissism is at the root of desire.  We desire things not for sheer pleasure but to trigger the desire or envy of others –personal gain.  Interestingly, the psychology research I’ve read on narcissism is pretty divided on whether narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be treated or not. A lot of doctors refuse to treat narcissistic patients, while others practice various techniques aimed at improving empathy.  I was thinking it might be interesting to study some of these techniques such as EMDR (eye movement desensitization, and reprocessing) and even danger exposure/reliance techniques and how social media, augmented reality, or gaming might be used to actually improve empathy.  I’m also interested in exploring the link between narcissism and aggression into violent behavior.


  1. This is a very interesting idea! I never thought about linking narcissism to our social media behavior, but what you wrote made sense to me,and I think it should be explored more.

  2. Love this! I did a study on the relationship between selfies and narcissism a few years ago...most of the time, when we perceive someone to be self-centered, we have a general dislike for them. I think this speaks to our evolutionary drive to be tribespeople--when we sense they care more for themselves than the tribe, we don't trust them. Maybe that's why people throw a few unread articles about social movements on their page in between all their selfie posts ;)