Even our photos of a church group, or a friend’s birthday, or exercise at the YMCA are, if we admit it, about us. Every photo is a “selfie.”
Alex Miller Jr., The Myth of Narcissus Goes Social
If you donated money to a hurricane relief charity via a website, you may have been asked if you wanted to share news of your donation with your Facebook friends. You may have said yes.
Jeff Bercovici, Congratulations, You Voted: How Social Media Makes Us All Approval Whores
Narcissism is a solution that a terrified person takes in the face of the fear of realizing his dreams. Narcissism works. I’ve lived it myself, for many years.
Steven Pressfield, Narcissism and Resistance
Every few months, is it? At least. Maybe every few weeks.
Somebody comes around talking narcissism and the Net, right?
The three articles referenced above — Miller, Bercovici, Pressfield — were floated out onto the glassy pond of our digital self-regard within six days of each other. Between November 2 and 8.
Bercovici (bur-KOH-vuh-see), whose work at Forbes I always find incisive, was prompted to write about what he terms “virtuebragging.” It’s related to “humblebragging,” do you know that one?
Humblebragging might manifest as a tweet along the lines of: Nothing but rain here at Balmoral! HRM keeps apologizing to us! #poordear
In formulating virtuebragging, Bercovici offers us: This is me pulling out moldy sheet rock! Don’t you like my hip waders? Hurricane Sandy relief. And there’s the I voted! crowd. Many of whom Instagram-ed their ballots. That, as he notes, is illegal in some states.
In the meantime, Miller’s piece ran on the Curator Magazine site. One of its tougher elements is tucked late into the piece where you can miss it: Miller has left the building, he’s done with this.
In the months that I first started to abandon social media, I happened to be teaching Ted Hughes’ translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the myth of Narcissus came to hand as the perfect barometer of a civilization that has always been just as self-concerned, but has only recently developed the tools to socially interact with its own face.
And Pressfield grabbed the thing by its shoulders, as he will always do, and shook the fool out of it to see where under those legendary robes the Resistance was hidden.
Pressfield isn’t concerned with the fragrant finality of the paperwhites named for that comely kid of myth.
No, he wants it fixed. It’s up to each of us to go pro, he writes, and heal ourselves.
Narcissism is not incurable. It’s not an irreversible condition. We can awaken from it if we’re willing to pay the price.
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With three wise men bearing gifts of narcissism, narcissism, and narcissism, surely we can discern at least three actionable ways to avoid reflection-gazing in our online interactions. Lily pads to avoid. Waves to waive.
Without lying right down on the mossy bank by the pool, it’s fair to note that writers do work in comparative isolation. At times, this can signal a legitimate need to announce their own milestones passed. So let’s start there.
(1) Target your triumphs. A nice day’s word count? The end of the 63rd revision? Chapter 18 reworked and your sanity still within reach? — Before you hit your next mark so handily, get together a little group on the social medium of your choice (“media” is still a plural word, damn it), and make an agreement that you’ll tell each other of these achievements. Contain it. Circle it on Google+. Form a little list of your brag-bros on Twitter.
One nice way to handle this was demonstrated by our colleague Kathy Pooler recently when she mentioned in a blog post that she’d finished the first draft of her memoir. It was informative and engaging, not annoying, because those who read it had come to her site, they were interested. And the people of Mumbai, Buenos Aires, and Thessaloniki were spared. This was a narcissism-free technique.
(2) Eat it. Don’t tweet it. Miller has a line in his aria at Curator Magazine, “Your mother, of course, is taking a picture of her food. Where are these photos going?” Well, we know where those shots are going because we all saw what she had for dinner. And breakfast. And lunch. Logging onto Facebook can be like opening a plastic-laminated menu with photos. You say you don’t mean to show off when you broadcast those foodie photos? Well, what do you mean, then, you eager eater, you? Sorry, but it looks like showing off.
If our first point above was about career moments and containing them, this one is about the non-career moments. And none of us is blameless, God knows I’m not, especially when it’s time to unwind. But that’s when to be most careful. The folks with whom you talk business may not be impressed with your mashed potatoes, your politics, your religious imaginings, or your children’s latest gloire dans Crayola. Be aware that we still live in a world in which millions of people will not get up an adequate bowl of rice today. Still want to send out chichi food pictures?
(3) “In case you missed it.” No, just send it. Or, if you must acknowledge that you’ve already flogged your new post or poem, just be frank: “Repeating” is shorter on Twitter, too.
The phrase “in case you missed it” falls, high and dry, under that umbrella of humblebragging. It comes off as your effort to persuade us you’re performing a service, bless your heart. And how does it look? — it looks like you don’t think enough people have clicked on your thing yet. And maybe they haven’t. But if I stopped by your desk and shouted “Look at me!” is there any way I could convince you I was performing a service? In case you missed me? #Cmonson. Just put it out there without “reaching out” to “share” it with us.
And now, I want to ask what are some of your own least-favorite narcissistic-looking behaviors online?
Notice “narcissistic-looking.” Although the food pictures are pretty hard to interpret as anything but Face Down at the Me-Pond, almost everything we experience as narcissistic on various social media can be, kindly, thought of as unintentional, unwitting, mere lapses in judgment. As we learn from Ovid, this can be part of the classic world’s narcissism. The guy hanging out over the water, we’re told, didn’t know whose beauty he loved.
Not recognizing himself
He wanted only himself. He had chosen
From all the faces he had ever seen
Only his own. He was himself
The torturer who now began his torture.
Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid: 24 Passages from the Metamorphoses
So you tell me. We’re pretty creative folks, after all. Is it possible that our writing-community media narcissists don’t realize they’ve bought into the “sharing” myth?
Main photo: iStockphoto: PeskyMonkey