Mirrored self-misidentification
Image by eqqman via Flickr

So, I’m browsing my Facebook news feed when I see a link from one of my favorite observers in the social media space, Mitch Joel, to a post on his blog about the narcissism of social media. At the bottom of this, he points to a Mashable (tagline: “The Social Media Guide”) story about a new study from San Diego State University showing that Generation Y students think their counterparts use social media for narcissistic purposes, yet agree this self-promotion and personal brand-building is important in a competitive world.

Then I find that the academics behind the study have just recently published a book (title: “The Narcissism Epidemic“), and I start to think that perhaps the timing of this study’s release isn’t an accident.

But the academics at SDSU and Mitch Joel aren’t using social media in a narcissistic way (Mitch also has a new book coming out). They’re using it in a capitalistic way, exactly as David Crotty argues it works best — to promote something else.

And this is where the real twist comes in — students, in general, don’t have anything other than themselves and their social lives to promote via social media. But once they’ve published books, established consultancies, started careers, invested in hobbies, etc., you can bet they’ll turn immediately to social media to promote aspects of these goods and services.

Which only speaks to the growing power of the domain.

It might look like narcissism now, but really, it’s just practice. Right now, when students use social media, they’re practicing with the tools they’ll wield in that fabled “real world” we always used to talk about in college. Only now the real world is primed for social media promotion, energized by colonization from multiple demographics.

What’s really forming is a culture where social media is the norm, skills are developing, and social networks are settling into the mainstream.

The term “digital natives” isn’t specific enough. Instead, the anthropologist in me is thinking “social media natives” is really the group we should be watching. They’re rehearsing at school, and have been for years.

And now, they’re ready to bring a new game to work.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


4 Thoughts on "The Narcissism of Social Media — Shameful, Practical, or Just Practice?"

Yes, yes, yes and maybe.

I’ve noticed the outrageously narcissistic vibe on all the major social media sites, and I make it a practice to tune it out. Kids, students, or those in it for the social interaction only, don’t really get why I’m there – and we’d tango together about as smoothly as an elephant and a llama. (Don’t ask who’s who.)

I agree wholeheartedly that kids online promoting (ie. posting, tweeting, blogging, etc.) their social lives and academic meanderings, may be vital practice for wielding social media as a powerful tool in their later to happen careers.

But let us not be daft: that won’t be everyone.

I am an optimist by nature, so I refuse to allow my mind to wander to where abused social media and an overly developed narcissistic society can go. Let’s just say this: everyone thinking they should have a “fan page” or that a video of themselves dancing with friends is big news, can wreak havoc on a world attempting to heal and reinvent itself.

I’m a mom and I’m an entrepreneur. I say YES YES YES to social media – with guidelines. Fortunately, I’m not the one in charge of hammering out what those guidelines should be. I’ll say FB and Twitter seem to be doing a bang up job, however.

The question is, if everyone is just advertising something (their book, their speaking tour, themselves), then why should anyone bother reading? Who goes out of their way to deliberately read advertisements? How much of social media is a room full of people with megaphones, each shouting, “Look at me!”?

As always, you raise an interesting perspective on this Kent. Thank you. I think it’s going to get much more interesting as Digital Natives take over in the workplace, because you’re right. These channels are also platforms and these platforms are not just to communicate, they are for them to self-and-co-promote.

David Crotty’s point is dead-on, if everyone is promoting, then who has time to actually engage. Furthermore, social media allows people to essentially create a universe around themselves and therefore view other’s ideas as secondary, regardless of if those ideas are better. For all the talk of Social Media, what really is happening is a proliferation of one-way conversations across a broader spectrum. For the majority of people, there is nothing social about it, if anything it’s less social and just simply louder.

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