While the self-esteem movement has been largely debunked, we are just now reaping what it has sown. The generation raised under these conditions is entering the workforce and has been described as difficult and that their expectations far exceed those of their predecessors in entry level positions. The praise they have been given all of their lives is still expected, even if they have not done anything to earn it and they lack the resiliency to deal with real disappointment and the realities of life.23,24
It should come as no surprise, then, that survivors of this largely failed social experiment have turned to other outlets to seek the praise to which they have grown so accustomed. Their choices, however, may not be improving their lot. By investing in virtual relationships in cyberspace rather than in the real world, they may be continuing a vicious cycle of empty praise, disingenuousness, and superficiality. The computer screen lacks the nuances of interpersonal interaction but may lead to a false belief that the human needs for love, friendship, and intimacy have been met. Even the meaning of friendship has dramatically changed in the digital age. The number of people that you can count as friends on these sites contributes to individual status and engenders a sense of importance. Relationships are not valued for their own sake but, rather, in bulk. Friends are “collected” and displayed on web pages for all the world to see and admire.25
Despite the ultimate hollowness of these relationships, the false belief that one is accepted and important to others frees the individual to pursue more egocentric needs, further driving narcissism. It is feared that web pages created on social networking sites will continue to promote and showcase the inflated self-esteem of millennials. And their influence may have increasingly far-reaching consequences: employers commonly search personal webpage postings of potential employees26 and many not only encourage but require workers to maintain such sites as on-line marketing strategies.27
The rise of social networking sites is indeed a disturbing trend that may be continuing to fuel the narcissism of a generation becoming more desperate than ever to maintain their fragile self-esteem. By investing more and more time and energy in a virtual world where they can maintain their sense of importance and specialness, they risk even more disappointment when confronted with the harsh realities of life. Relationships become shallower and more fleeting; self-interest exceeds the common good. The costs of narcissism, then, are paid by the society at large.9 And since millennials equate their very existence with their self-image, they may react aggressively to protect it. Anything that threatens their ability to maintain their false sense of self is considered a threat to life itself. As such, the dangerousness of the millennial generation may yet be actualized.