It has become commonplace to display much of our lives in a very publicly accessible fashion. Amateur videos go viral every day, making instant celebrities out of the least likely candidates. We can portray ourselves as the wealthy, beautiful, successful people we always wished to be, and we can make sure that everyone who ever doubted us gets a full screening of our talents and accomplishments. We can be up-to-the-minute with not only friends and family and workmates, but with actors, musicians, politicians, and sports figures. Just as we can individually select the music, news, television, and other entertainment we wish to enjoy, we can also broadly send our own images, actions, beliefs, feelings, and thoughts out into the world.
It seems that everyone knows that person who has thousands of cyberspace “friends”. Their Facebook is legend, they have so many followers and tweeters and likers it is dizzying. It appears as if their lives are filled with glamorous and fun events that inspire envy in all who read their self-created media kits.
The role of Technology
As technology has provided us with an abundance of ways to share both every day and extraordinary events, have we come to depend on them too much? We may sometimes feel that unless something is captured, shared, and analysed via social media that we have not fully experienced it. In other words, if something is not “lived out loud” does it exist? Have we become too accustomed to the idea that everyone is the star of their own reality series?
So-called personal media emphasize the most harmful aspects of narcissism – and actually encourage it.
While those in the public eye may have some legitimate claim to feeling they must constantly publicly chronicle their lives, it is more troubling when ordinary folk believe that they too must keep open a running dialogue between themselves and their many admirers – real or imaginary. It is worth considering how much of this is calculated to create both bad feelings in others, and an inflated sense of self-worth or importance in the person who is sending out these images.
Such traits and people have always existed, but new technology accelerates and accentuates these tendencies. Social media have been around for a long time now and they have increasingly become personal media outlets of our own making. Contrary to belief, it is not just something that afflicts the younger generation. Very few people choose or wish to remain out of the cyber-loop. But it becomes problematic when we begin to believe that everything we do or say is fascinating or noteworthy.
How to recognize narcissism in cyberspace
Cyber space provides ample opportunities not only to show off one’s accomplishments and acquisitions, but it also gives room to people who wish to magnify, distort, or disguise as well. It can also promote negative behaviour in some individuals, as it tends to create a space where many of the normal rules of decency and fair play are abandoned. Small disagreements can become public spectacles, and the privacy and discretion we wish to shield can very easily be irreparably violated. Narcissistic behaviour in cyberspace can become truly dangerous when it is used to manipulate, stalk, or behave in other predatory ways.
All of this self-absorption has other consequences, as well. We should be mindful of the personal cost in relation to our most cherished life events. Many of us have had the experience of being so busy recording something – through video cameras or mobile phones – that we later realize we have lost touch with the moment. We may have the shock of looking back at photographs only to realize that we were so distracted trying to capture the event in order to post it on social media that we did not really fully appreciate or enjoy it while it was happening. Moreover, the constant maintenance of our various social media outlets robs us of the joy of spending time with others free from electronic intrusions. Sometimes, we just need to turn away from the screen, and pay full attention to those we are with. It might not provide the immediate gratification of being the star of your own twenty-four hour “me show” but the rewards are infinitely deeper.
If you feel affected by any of the issues described in this article you can discuss these with me in person. I am a counsellor based in Waterloo, and also offering psychotherapy in Kennington. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.