October 01, 2009

A Perfectly Balanced Narcissism

There was a time when a public display of narcissism was available to only the few: the talented, the beautiful, or the wealthy.

You couldn't get a book published unless you had something interesting to say. You couldn't get your picture on a screen unless you were stunning to look at. You couldn't force your way into the public consciousness unless you had money to burn.

Now, the seductive appeal of narcissistic self-absorption has been democratized. It is open to everyone. You don't need to be anything special. All you need is an internet service provider.

Let's put aside for a moment the fancy words and high-minded theories of media experts and ask ourselves this question: what is social media really about?

Is it really about connecting with friends? Is it really about conversations? I'm officially skeptical.

It seems to me that what social media is primarily about is narcissism. For the first time in human history, we each have what only the tiniest segment of the population once had -- the potential to be known by virtually everyone on the planet. And best of all, we don't to have to accomplish anything to do it.

It started with websites. You could put up your own site and become instantly accessible around the world. The problem with websites, though, was they were difficult to produce and boring as shit.

Then came blogs and podcasts. They were a narcissist's dream. You could express all your brilliant opinions for the world to hear. The drawback, however, was that they required work and no one paid any attention.

Then came the real breakthroughs -- MySpace and Facebook. These babies didn't bother pretending they were about anything other than narcissism. They were about "your space" and "your face."

Finally came Twitter. What made Twitter irresistible was that you didn't have to wait for people to find your "space" or your "face" -- you could broadcast your wonderfulness.

The idea that social media is about connections is marvelous camouflage. It gives us a lovely, feasible means for disguising the truth.

Social media has created a perfectly balanced currency for narcissism. I'll friend you, you friend me. I'll pretend to be interested in your life. You pretend to be interested in mine.

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