The tweet spot
Social media is not a means of creating narcissism, but rather a way to revel in our accomplishments and improve ourselves
Last week, my fellow Monday columnist Meredith Berger offered her commentary on the narcissism complex that exists in our generation. She attributes this problem to the pervasiveness of social networking sites and to the false sense of pride that our prowess at video games creates. Although I ultimately decided that I had a different take on this phenomenon than the one Ms. Berger provides, let me preface my argument by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed her column. It was well-written, well-researched, and prompted an intense inner dialogue and debate for me.
I do agree that the extent to which members of our generation constantly update each other on their most trivial thoughts and actions is stunning. Technology has presented us with unprecedented opportunities to indulge in self-absorption. Unlike Ms. Berger, however, I choose to draw a distinction between narcissism and self-confidence; between self-obsession and self-promotion; between self-awareness and self-loathing. I do not see an inherent threat to productivity if we continue to humor ourselves with “deluded self-conceptions.”
Rather, I find worrisome the idea that we should instead “accept our faults” as well as the “truth of our mediocrity.” I take a slightly more optimistic approach to addressing this narcissism problem, because I believe a society full of self-loathing citizens who openly acknowledge their own inadequacy could be just as harmful, and just as privy to depression and suicide, as one filled with narcissism.
In her column, Ms. Berger suggests that we must face the fact that no one truly cares what we post on Facebook and no one will ever quote our tweets as inspirational adages. Although we may try, we cannot cite our 5,000 friends on Facebook as evidence of our amicability and there is no place for our Modern Warfare “Prestige” title on a resume. But does this mean that we should stop using social networking? Should we stop being excited about our day-to-day feats, even if they are insignificant? I do not take issue with the contention that we have more exposure as human beings than ever before.
But if we are to combat this overexposure and its associated narcissism, how should we do it? I fear that in attempting to eliminate unwarranted narcissism, we would also do away with our small pleasures and our hobbies. Sure, maybe only my three closest friends will read my 140-character existential crisis. But if it helps me to write it, and if I’ve successfully released a musing into the world, I do not see any harm in that, nor do I think I should stop doing it or feel ashamed of it.
Along with our constant exposure and access to virtual interaction comes a sense of obligation to “market” ourselves to others. Over and over again we are told that getting into college is competitive, the job market is competitive, and the “real world” is dog-eat-dog. Others’ expectations of our arduous futures do compel us to prove ourselves. And while it may be silly to take pride in a perfect score on Just Dance, I would argue that to do so, and even to tell people about it, is simply a programmed behavior. Ms. Berger characterizes members of our generation as self-centered because we seem to impulsively “recite our resumes.” But in today’s world, I would argue that it is not self-absorption but rather practicality and necessity that drive us to do so, even if the feats were are citing have no relative significance.
Beyond the fact that being aware and proud of our talents both big and small can help us to be successful, we must also consider this simple truth: people like to achieve. In most cases it is all in good fun; by no means is our puerile self-satisfaction a problem for society. The logical jump that self-satisfaction will lead to complacency is a broad one to make. While I am glad when a new friend adds me on Facebook or when someone “favorites” my tweets, these things will certainly not prevent me from seeking out actual human interaction or deep, meaningful connections. Likewise, winning a round of NBA 2K13 will not delude someone into believing he no longer needs to do his schoolwork or search for employment because he is already successful. It will just make him happy, and that’s okay.
While Ms. Berger’s argument sounds strong, when you begin to consider possible cures to our narcissism, you realize that the result would be an incredibly downtrodden, depressed citizenry. Take, as an example, college rejection letters. Should they — instead of tempering the blow — be sweepingly negative, or even specifically critical? Should they begin, “We’re sorry. There was no way that you were up to our standards. Your SAT score particularly convinced us of your incompetence…” There is danger in merely “accepting” our faults. Shouldn’t we instead consistently strive to recognize and overcome them? If we staunchly embrace the fact that we will never be anything but mediocre, from where should our motivation stem? Rather than mocking people for behaviors such as “playing celebrity” on Twitter, we should encourage them to aspire to actual notability one day. Ultimately, there may be a slight risk in our increasing narcissism, but I would argue that to replace our current attitude with its exact antithesis, one of striking and unforgiving self-awareness, would be equally problematic.
Ashley Spinks’ column usually appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.