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Perhaps outdated now–note the bracketed language at the beginning, which Facebook automatically included at the front of each ‘status update’ in that era–the post is indicative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.

Twitter: Narcissism Meets Networking

Is twitter the next best marketing and networking tool, or merely another way for that annoying guy at work to brag about his mundane life?
It’s really up to you.
Dustin’s post about the iphone-skype marriage reminded me of what Os Guinness had to say at a recent conference on Francis Schaeffer. Guinness spent a fair amount of time discussing the largely unexamined aspects of technology. He argued that our uncritical acceptance of the idea that more machines make a better society has ultimately made it more difficult for us to spread the Gospel; for one thing, there is so much “background noise” in our daily lives that it is difficult to hear Truth when it is spoken. Our culture-wide addiction to newer and faster sources of knowledge has not made us more knowledgeable so much as it has made us more inattentive. Everyone speaks, and no one listens… just like in the video at the top of this post. It’s not easy to share the Gospel with people who don’t know how to listen well.

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A Dream of Mars

By Joi Weaver
In 2008, thousands of people fell in love with a robot, far from its home, out in the cold of space. No, I’m not talking about Wall-E: I mean the Mars Explorer, nicknamed “Phoenix.” Aside from its obvious purposes of space exploration and study, the Mars Explorer was also a new step for NASA when it became one of the most followed accounts on the social networking site, Twitter. In early November, the Explorer ceased communicating with Earth, but not before the Twitterstream generated a massive following, and captured the hearts of thousands. Some of the last few Tweets from the Explorer(written by Veronica McGregor of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, http://twitter.com/marsphoenix and http://www.twitter.com/veronicamcg) were very poignant:

I should stay well-preserved in this cold. I’ll be humankind’s monument here for centuries, eons, until future explorers come for me ;-) 1:57 AM Oct 30th, 2008 from web
Take care of that beautiful blue marble out there in space, our home planet. I’ll be keeping an eye from here. Space exploration FTW! 12:55 PM Oct 30th, 2008 from web

Many of the Explorer’s followers on Twitter expressed amazement that they were getting so emotional over a robot, especially when everyone knew the messages were coming from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, not the surface of Mars. Why get worked up over a machine that was slowly shutting down?

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