The article that follows is from Relevant Magazine. My favorite line is the one that I have stolen for the title of the this post. The reality is that the Facebook life is a narcissistic life for all of us--including me. It is a way that we stare at ourselves rather than the world around us with all of its need and pain. Shane Hipps reminds us of this and helps us to put a longer spoon in our hands as we sip soup with the devil. [Note: Bold, italic and centered emphasis added.]
Shane Hipps examines how social networking affects us.
For a person who writes about how technology shapes us, I’m embarrassed to admit I ended up on Facebook by accident. I received an email from an acquaintance requesting we become “friends.” To be polite, I said yes. I clicked a few buttons and agreed to a few things without paying much
attention. For the next three days, my inbox was flooded with email notific ations from a large number of my real-life friends who were also apparently now my virtual friends. They were thrilled. They congr atul ated me on joining Facebook—an achievement I didn’t consider worthy of accolade. I was also a bit mortified. Not just athow invasive Facebook was, but how excited these people were. Wh atwas wrong with them? [Editor's note: For a different perspective on social media, check out Caleb Gardner's article]
I’ll admit I found some appeal. There is a certain thrill in looking
atpictures of high school friends from long ago without them knowing. It’s like being a fly on the wall atyour high school reunion. I was instantly connected to long-lost friends. People I would never go searching for, but would love to know wh atthey are doing. And all atonce I was not only upd ated on their life, I was also introduced to their moment-by-moment mental fidgets in the form of st atus upd ates. Wh ata simple joy.
There are times when I felt a bit like a voyeur must feel. However, this is not voyeurism. Voyeurism assumes the people you are w
atching don’t want you to see them. Voyeurism is wh athappens when you steal glimpses into people’s lives they don’t intend for you to see. The people I’m looking atwant me to see everything I’m seeing. They want me to know wh atthey’re e ating, wearing, feeling and thinking in each moment. They are actually exhibitionists. So while there is a little voyeurism, there is a lot of exhibitionism on Facebook.
Such exhibitionism has an unusual effect on us. We not only want others to see us, we like to see us. We are able to inspect and tweak wh
atothers are seeing about us. We become fascin ated by the image we project. It’s like having a mirror on your desk or in your pocket. And every so often, you pull it out to gaze upon your own image. Perhaps you want to adjust your hair or find postures of the head to smooth out the double chin. This kind of regular self-inspection eventually gives rise to a subtle narcissism.
The narcissism cre
ated by these technologies is unique. It encourages not just self-absorption, but, more accur ately, self-consumption. We become cre ators and consumers of our own brand. We become enamored by a particular kind of self, a pseudo-self. A self-image controlled in much the same way corpor ate brands are controlled. Complete with pictures, videos, songs and, most of all, metrics—the number of friends we have, the kinds of friends we have and the kind of associ ations we have. We endlessly refine, cre ate and consume a digital projection we want others to see. However, we are rarely wh atwe project. This image approxim ates reality, but it is not reality.
This heavily edited and carefully controlled self easily hides certain parts of ourselves we don’t want others to see. This is hardly new, of course. In any social situ
ation, we seek to control the impression we give. The problem is th atin real social settings, there are limits to wh atwe can hide. At a certain point, people intuitively see through us. Eventually they get a sense of who we really are. And in this way, real friendships can function as a healthy mirror. They become an honest mirror th atloves but doesn’t fl atter us. Facebook is more like a funhouse mirror. Feeling short and squ atty, no problem, just bend the mirror and presto! You are who you wish you were.
Over enough time, this subtle effect cre
ates a minor split in us. A split between who we are, and who we think we are. This tiny fracture may seem insignificant, but if we remain unconscious, it leads us away from a life of wholeness and integr ation.
Narcissism is a r
ather exquisite vice. It is very difficult to detect in oneself. And when something is hard to identify it makes it hard to dissolve. The real buzzkill, though, is how it affects rel ationships. Studies indic ate narcissists have trouble forming meaningful rel ationships, tend to be m aterialistic and are prone to higher levels of infidelity, substance abuse and violence.
So while Facebook and other social media connect us to more digital rel
ationships, atthe same time, they deterior ate our ability to maintain healthy rel ationships in real life.
Our social technologies are increasingly serving as an obstacle to this process in young people. If certain kinds of social media are introduced prem
aturely in the lives of teens, they may inadvertently short-circuit basic developmental milestones crucial for establishing healthy rel ationships l ater in life.
Facebook is the perfect cocktail: a medium th
atfocuses much of our attention on ourselves, while appearing to focus our attention on rel ationship with others. It is a mirror masquerading as a window.
Just because this developmental hiccup is acute in adolescents doesn’t mean adults are immune from the narcotic effects of social media. It’s true th
atmost adults have stabilized basic ego structures, but the human psyche is anything but st atic; it remains profoundly plastic throughout life. As a result, human development never really ends and regression is always possible.
If we persist in consuming these or any technologies without conscious awareness, we will be formed in ways we don’t intend. But I must be clear on this point. The problem is not using the technology. The problem is using it unconsciously.
How then do we become conscious? One of the most powerful ways is by practicing a technology fast. Don’t look
atyour Facebook account for one week and see wh atyou notice about yourself. See wh atyou miss. See wh atyou gain. If nothing happened in a week, try two. The point is not the time—it’s the distance. Find ways to gain enough distance to perceive. You will reap the benefits.
Now it will be tempting to conclude after all this ranting th
atI am simply a Luddite, a technophobe bent on the dismantling of all digital technologies. This is not the case. Admittedly, I was hardly even-handed in my observ ations. However, to herald the virtues of our technology is mostly redundant, it would be like trying to argue the importance of bre athing. It’s already here, and the value it adds is self-evident. This is why the technologies are so prevalent: we autom atically know their benefits, otherwise we wouldn’t use them. My concern is th atour culture seems only capable of seeing the benefit and utterly blind to the liabilities, the inevitable losses certain technologies bring. I have no interest in trying to end or stop such technological innov ations; to do so is like trying to resist the wind or the tides. Instead, I want us to understand them with depth. Not with naïve embrace, or fearful rejection.
If we learn to wake up and understand, perhaps we will be able to use them r
ather than be used by them.