On Narcissism, the Internet, and Social Networking Sites

October 27, 2009

I read with interest the posts of Dr John Grohol, PsyD regarding my commentary, "Twitter and YouTube: Unanticipated Consequences of the Self-Esteem Movement.” I had hoped it would bring attention to this topic and am glad that this has opened up an important dialogue. However, the author has missed the point.

I read with interest the posts of Dr John Grohol, PsyD regarding my commentary, "Twitter and YouTube: Unanticipated Consequences of the Self-Esteem Movement.” I had hoped it would bring attention to this topic and am glad that this has opened up an important dialogue. However, the author has missed the point.

It was not my intention to blame the Internet for creating more narcissists or for causing irreparable harm to our children. In fact, nowhere in my article do I “demonize” the Internet as this post asserts. It is my contention that the Internet is not, in and of itself, inherently evil. I do not blame social networking sites for the rise of narcissism in our culture. A more careful reading of the piece would reveal that I consider social networking sites a symptom of a narcissistic society rather than the cause of it.

My argument was not that the Internet is to blame for the sad state of affairs in which we find ourselves. Rather, it is the philosophy that influenced the rearing of an entire generation, namely, the self-esteem movement. By shielding our youth from the dangers of criticism and disappointment, they have arrived at adulthood without having developed the coping skills they need to survive in the real world. No one succeeds at everything. This is a fact of life. But the millennial generation was not exposed to this reality. Not only do they shun criticism, they feel entitled to praise, even if undeserved.

The studies of Twenge and Campbell1-3 have shown a steady rise in narcissism in the past several decades. While the author is quick to point to statements he believes are not backed by data, he fails to even take note of this study. This rise in narcissism was evident before the advent of social networking sites. And it is my contention that these sites would not have risen to such prominence but for the fact that a generation of narcissists needed an outlet. The millennial generation needed a way to assert their uniqueness, their specialness and garner the attention and praise of the masses. Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter filled the bill.

Communication has certainly changed throughout the last century. And with each successive change, the degree of face to face contact has decreased. From in person visits and hand written notes, we have progressed to phone calls and emails. Each time we remove ourselves from face-to-face contact with each other, the communication becomes eroded. When we can see each other, we can appreciate important non-verbal cues, absent if we just speak over the phone.

When we write or email, we lose the information that can be gleaned from pauses, prosody, and intonation of speech that are still available over the phone. When we text or blog, we have none of those things. The words must stand alone and they are condensed to their most basic and, in some cases, completely replaced by shorthand such as “lol”and “omg.”

Call me old-fashioned, but having a close friend with whom I have shared real experiences and confided real feelings to beats being anyone’s “bff.”

References:

References
1. Twenge JM, Campbell WK. “Isn’t it fun to get the respect we’re going to deserve?” Narcissism, social rejection, and aggression. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2003;29:261-272.
2. Twenge JM, Konrath S, Foster JD, et al. Egos inflating over time: a cross-temporal meta-analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. J Pers. 2008;76:875-928.
3. Twenge J, Campbell K, Trzesniewski K, Donnellan B. Narcissism in Gen Y: is it increasing or not? Two opposing perspectives. Twenge J, Campbell WK. Generation Me in the jury box. The Jury Expert. May 2009;21(3). http://www.astcweb.org/public/publication/article.cfm/1/21/3/Narcissism-in-Generation-Y-and-Litigation-Advocacy. Accessed September 4, 2009.