Life online is measured in likes, retweets, comments, favs, follows, friends, and retweets. The more you have of these digital token of affirmation, the more important you are. And importance feels good, right? Why not try to get more and more of it (it’s not all that hard to get a like after all)? This is the cycle of narcissism that reveals itself when we’re online, and increasingly it’s filtering all the way back to the real world.
Multiple studies by psychologists Jean M. Twnege and W. Keith Campbell and psychologist Dr. Nathan DeWall have shown trends of increasing narcissism in college students between 1980 and today, but the creation of social media has resulted in an explosion in the trend toward more self-loving masses. Social media is both outlet and validation in one go. The feedback cycle makes us share more so we can be liked more, and research shows that this will increase narcissism over time. The Atlantic writes:
Researchers at Western Illinois University measured two socially disruptive aspects of narcissistic personalities—grandiose exhibitionism and entitlement/exploitativeness. Those who had high scores on grandiose exhibitionism tended to amass more friends on Facebook. Buffardi and Campbell found a high correlation between Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) scores and Facebook activity. Researchers were able to identify those with high NPI scores by studying their Facebook pages.
The focus of many tech services and products is on the user exclusively, the leading example of this being the iPod. It was the first major product to take the e- prefix usually used for technology and using an i- instead. The focus is on the user and their personality and their needs. Social media also allows us to tailor our representations of ourselves. If there are ugly photos of us, we untag ourselves. If there are awesome photos of us, we tag ourselves, make it our profile pic, and share it with the world accruing likes and comments along the way. Physical and temporal restraints no longer get in the way when constructing the perfect digital representation of you (or at least the best parts of you).
This isn’t to say that everyone on the Internet is a narcissist. Rather, people who have grand egos will go to the Internet to gain a larger following. These people then set the standards of how many digital friends and likes a person should have and everyone else tries to match that. By using the self-loving as a standard, it draws out narcissistic qualities in the rest of us. Don’t despair if you don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers, there’s no productive way to compete with narcissists.