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.