On Facebook and Narcissism: When Crafting Your Own Self-Image Goes Too Far

I’ve always had an odd relationship with Facebook. I joined as a freshman in college, fresh out of the MySpace era, more concerned with who was in my Top 8 than whether or not I should “like” someone’s status. Back then, you had to have a .edu e-mail address just to join the mighty ‘like’ machine, but eventually everybody and their mother (and, in my case, grandmother) was on Facebook, talking about their lives.

Early on, I discovered the joy of self-referential experimentation in the form of ‘witty’ status updates. I wanted to play with the form of a status update, the way that we often used them, and how they may end up being perceived by others. My magnum opus, if I may be so narcissistic to refer to any status update of mine as such in a post about Facebook, was quite early on in my public online career:

[James Arnold is] off to breakfast. Then off to calculus. Then off to work. Then probably cashing his check and going to lunch. Then preparing for Don Rags, feeling stalkerish?

-James Arnold, Facebook status update, 2006.

Perhaps outdated now–note the bracketed language at the beginning, which Facebook automatically included at the front of each ‘status update’ in that era–the post is indicative of the sort of involvement many in my generation have with social media: we deconstruct, to some degree, but mostly we just play. Facebook had introduced a news feed, and many felt as though it was encouraging people to develop stalker-like tendencies. Similarly, when my brother joined Twitter, we had a conversation entirely built on hashtags. What was once meant to be searchable became a language all on its own.

A few friends recently shared a rather scathing article about Facebook usage. The article, which you can read here, fills out seven ways “to be insufferable” as you fill out that little “What’s on your mind?” box that Facebook really wants you to answer. The examples range from understandably frustrating (“Ugggggghhhhhh”) to the mild (“Finally finished my paper”) all the way to the stuff that keeps me coming back to Facebook (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. ~Proverbs 3:5-6″; or, in the author’s words, “An unsolicited nugget of wisdom”).

While the article is filled with cynicism (“99% of the people on your Facebook friends list don’t love you”), it makes some good points. We could learn to moderate what we feel the need to put onto our social networks. If we are motivated by how others view us, entirely, then we can end up crafting our own self-image with a lack of authenticity; we’d become disingenuous.

But here’s the deal: everything you do changes the way people view you. You can live every moment consumed by your self image, or you can honestly express yourself. Just like some people are quick to speak and others take their time, so might some people simply have a personality that prefers to share, rather than prefer to reserve.

If you only post those status updates that will definitely endear you to your 800 friends, then you’ve fallen into the exact same trap: you’re catering to an audience, rather than being ‘genuine.’

I don’t think writing with an audience in mind is a bad thing. Neither do I think that writing to no one in particular is necessarily harmful or frustrating or annoying. You aren’t insufferable if the only things you post on Facebook have to do with what you ate that day; you just might be publicly boring.

If we value people, and I really hope we do, then what we find interesting should be broader than just personal intellectual stimulation. Much like we can learn to appreciate ‘pop’ culture in ways that are bigger than mindless consumption (and still entertaining), so should we remember that the people around us are intrinsically valuable; people are made in the image of God, and we should treat them that way. What my friends ate for breakfast might not be interesting–I’m not saying that the article above wasn’t without merit–but their thoughts on what is happening around the world ought to be. If this means I need to have a smaller friends list, just so that it can be digestible, so be it. But the point is simple: Facebook is just one medium where we interact with one another, and we ought to be showing each other grace.

My Facebook status updates may be about me, but I hope yours aren’t.

All the Married Ladies: A Response to Kate Bolick

Ever wonder how Conservative women compare with their feminist counterparts?

My latest piece is up at the newly launched politicalistas.com today: a response to The Atlantic’s November cover article.

Though I was deep in the throes of giving birth, I couldn’t help smiling at the nurse’s shocked face. She’d noticed my wedding ring. “You’re married?” She paused, and I watched her count backward on her fingers. “This baby wasn’t conceived until after we were married” I gasped, as another contraction took hold. The look on her face made me laugh out loud, despite the pain. “You waited?” She was shocked. “I deliver babies every day and I never see married couples in here!”

I suppose her reaction shouldn’t have surprised me. I gave birth in a prosperous neighborhood, at a well-respected for-profit hospital. Even so, my story, which a generation ago would have been commonplace, now defies modern conventions across all economic levels. Women with lives like mine will only become more unusual as cultural attitudes toward marriage and parenthood continue to shift—and if The Atlantic’s November cover story is any indication, that’s bad news for all of us.

Read the whole article here.

Image from Flickr.


Irish Impressions: An Old Book Dealing with Racism, Politics, and Ireland

In 1919, G. K. Chesterton published the book Irish Impressions, a book examining the conflict between England and Ireland. That same year marked the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, which ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and Ireland’s rise to dominion status within the British Empire. Chesterton’s book gives keen insight into what caused bitter contention between England and Ireland.

In Irish Impressions, Chesterton lays out the cultural misunderstandings, historical abuses, and other errors that caused so much bad blood between England and Ireland. Sympathetic to Ireland’s plight, he gives a very human treatment to the problems between the two countries and systematically condemns England’s treatment of Ireland. The foremost quality of the book is the human examination of the problems at hand.

Chesterton dispenses with isms and sociological models. He examines the Irish people in the context of European peasantry and explains their anger as a response to slights against their dignity and honor, not a response to political programs and agendas. He gives the example of and English tourist bargaining with a peasant in Europe to illustrate:

When a peasant asks tenpence for something that is worth fourpence, the tourist misunderstands the whole problem. He commonly solves it by calling the man a thief and paying the tenpence. There are ten thousand errors in this, beginning with the primary error of an oligarchy, of treating a man as a servant when he feels more like a small squire. The peasant does not choose to receive insults; but he never expected to receive tenpence. A man who understood him would simply suggest twopence, in a calm and courteous manner; and the two would eventually meet in the middle at a perfectly just price. There would not be what we call a fixed price at the beginning, but there would be a firmly fixed price at the end: that is, the bargain once made would be a sacredly sealed contract. The peasant, so far from cheating, has his own horror of cheating; and certainly his own horror at being cheated.

He goes on to say that the English had cheated the Irish out of a political compromise they had negotiated, so the Irish were smarting from that reversal. In another place, he gives an example of the difference between the industrial and the peasant mindsets. He was driving down an Irish road, and to the left the harvest was not gathered because the workers were on strike; on the right, peasant farmers had brought in the harvest and their grain was not rotting in the fields. Whatever the cause of the strike, “the big machine had stopped, because it was a big machine. The men were still working, because they were not machines.”

While Chesterton exposes the plain injustices wrought against Ireland, he also tackles the delicate matter of how the Irish went wrong in their thinking. Normally someone condemning his own country’s sins would hardly dare to address the victim’s sin, but Chesterton goes for it. For one thing, he upholds nationalism as the antidote to imperialism: “Nationalism is a nobler thing even than patriotism; for nationalism appeals to a law of nations; it implies that a nation is a normal thing, and therefore one of a number of normal things.” The Irish went wrong when they tried to turn their Irish-ness into something special beyond the honorable national identity that it is. He also criticizes the notion that he would speak for Ireland because he is somehow Irish: if he had to be Irish to speak in favor of the Irish, he could offer nothing objective against England.

Chesterton is clearly an Englishman in writing this book, and he describes when he went on tour in Ireland to recruit the Irish to fight in the First World War. He appealed to the Irish to see the war as something that indeed concerned them, that fighting with England against Germany was in Ireland’s best interests as a nation among nations. Although Chesterton criticizes the folly of the 1916 Easter Rising against conscription in Ireland, he also affirms the nobility of those who revolted. He concedes that it would have been difficult for any people to join their oppressors to fight against evil, and England’s attempts to raise volunteers were damnably clumsy.

As far as Irish Impressions may serve as a lesson for modern racial reconciliation, it primarily teaches two things: we have to treat people as people, and we have to legitimately give them good things to work with. Chesterton notes that the Irish did not trust English promises, and says that whatever the English decide to give, they really have to give it. He even speculates that the Irish would be satisfied with the autonomy granted by dominion status rather than full independence, if only the English would grant that. The Irish political leaders fighting for independence ultimately accepted dominion status under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 and only left the British Commonwealth in 1949, although they ceased to act like a Commonwealth member some years before. What resolved the long conflict between England and Ireland was a negotiated agreement that both sides ultimately kept. Although the full history is much more complicated and includes the Irish Civil War, a modicum of reconciliation occurred with the signing of the treaty.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Pornography, PETA Style

I would have thought that anyone arguing for a connection between PETA and pornography would have to suggest that objectification of women expressed via pornography was comparable to the objectification of animals in the meat industry production lines. Treating women like pieces of meat and then treating animals like only objects made of meat, as opposed to living creatures, would be a connection that, I think, could be made without too much of a stretch. Continue reading Pornography, PETA Style

The End of Jonathan’s Card

Last Friday, the world lost Jonathan’s Card. If you are unfamiliar with Jonathan’s social experiment, the idea was that he bought a gift card, uploaded an image that could be scanned on any smartphone to the web, and encouraged people to use it and add money to it at their whim and desire. You could follow the card’s balance via twitter, or just take a gamble at your local Starbucks by ordering and scanning it. People would add money either via the web or in person, and the card fluctuated in value rather rapidly. Continue reading The End of Jonathan’s Card