‘Social’ Media: ‘Sharing’ our Narcissism

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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 BercoviciCongratulations, 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.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook
Jeff Bercovici

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.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook
Steven Pressfield

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.

| | |

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


About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in publishing. Anderson is The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, writing on publishing and on #MusicForWriters in association with Q2 Music. In 2015, Anderson has programmed the IDPF Digital Book Conference that opened BookExpo America (BEA) and is programming the First Word event at the Novelists Inc. (NINC) conference later in the year. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, now in its second year, 13-16 October, in the 2015 Buchmesse. More on his consultancy, which includes Library Journal's and BiblioBoard's SELF-e among its clients in 2015: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+


  1. says

    Guilty! I often take photos of food that I’ve made, though, not chichi restaurant food. I also like to humblebrag…I went on and on about how sore I was after running a half-marathon.

    The worst status update i’ve read, however, was not mine. It was something like, “Anyone know a good place in Paris for dinner tonight?” Ugh. I blocked her feed.

    Am I being narcicistic if I add that I use this tidbit in Chapter 8 of my WIP? Yes? Oops, sorry!

    • says

      LOL, just loving the “anybody know a good restaurant in Paris?” line, Emily, too funny. Mon dieu.

      If you’re just out of a half-marathon, I’ll forgive you for tweeting it. :) Hey, that’s just your legs talking, right? And at least your foodie pics are homemade things.

      Seriously, it’s really about what works for you. And hell, your WIP may be something you need to sell to foodie-picture-lovers and half-marathon runners. In which case, shut my mouth.

      You’re clearly conscious of what you’re doing — and not — and that’s exactly what I’m asking for: if we all can just become aware of what we’re doing, we’re so much better off than when we blindly stab away at it and fall into habits without thinking it through.

      Thanks and hey, at least we know that Chapter 8 of your WIP is worth reading. :)

  2. says

    This is why I keep the majority of my writing achievements to my blog, and then just post the link to my facebook profile, so if someone cares, they’ll click it, or if they don’t, they can just keep scrolling through their newsfeed and ignore it. I don’t think it hurts anyone to be a narcissistic sometimes. At the end of the day, everyone is doing it and most people don’t care until somebody starts doing the ‘In case you missed it’ hat-trick. That’s the only time it ever gets on my nerves anyway. Otherwise, I’m guilty as charged and probably just as unashamed as the next person. If you visit my blog, that’s your choice, and it’s very easy to just keep scrolling when you see the link in the facebook newsfeed. Friends are supposed to care about each others achievements anyway. I don’t know how Twitter or other mediums work, so I can’t answer for them. If you’re self-advertising in a completely public forum, that would be annoying. It’s one of those topics where there are good pointers and bad pointers to it.

    • says

      Sounds to me, Bonnee, as if you have a great system.

      The use of your blog space, not only for the enjoyment and celebration of your own achievements but also to encourage your friends and others who visit is great, a nice way to go.

      You’re very right that friends are meant to support and nourish each other — cheering achievements and being cheered, as well.

      The only problems tend to arrive when folks forget that the whole spectrum of a social medium’s network isn’t that group of friends. And, as I mention in the piece, you’re right, too, that every one of us can fall prey to some of this thinking from time to time and go off trumpeting things in a way that might leave others feeling a bit trampled by ego — what you aptly describe as self-advertising in a public forum.

      So keep it up, I’d say you have a great handle on this issue already. Bests with your work and those achievements, and thanks for commenting!


    • says

      Ha! Thanks, Alex,

      Good to hear from you and thanks for the kind words. More than once, I fear I’ve been the one face-down, too, “it comes honest.” This is an issue a lot of us can get some traction on (whether we like that or not), lol.

      Thanks again, and hope your work is going well!

  3. says

    I am your “amen choir” on this subject. As a relative “newbie ” in the writing world (at 48), I have struggled with the whole building-platform concept. It feels like the recreation of the high school culture I didn’t like when I was 18. I don’t think I have ever self-focused so much and certainly not in such a public way nor have I ever witnessed so much “I’ll do something for you –follow, comment, etc–if you do it for me.”

    I struggle to find the balance of smart marketing, genuine community-building, and not drowning in the sucking muck of self.

    “Me first” was not the formula for joy I was taught. Thanks and thanks again for helping me reconsider how to do all this with less self-focus.

    • says

      Hey, Julie,

      Thanks for such a generous comment, and for bringing up a couple of very interesting points about all this, too.

      Do realize that you’re not alone, and that aspect of self-promotion that comes into play in the online author-platform life is not easily handled by many.

      (One of our colleagues here at Writer Unboxed, Dan Blank, is a noted teacher of platforming, in case you feel some guidance might help. You can find him on Twitter at @DanBlank or at WeGrowMedia.com )

      One of the points you make that rings so true to me is the youthful feel of some of this, that “recreation of the culture of high school.” I don’t think I’d put my finger on it that way, and yet as soon as I read you saying it that way, it made good sense. Exactly. There is that element to it (which I didn’t care for back in school, myself).

      And the I’ll-scratch-your-back part of things, yes, definitely can be prevalent in some parts of networking culture. At times, this isn’t a bad thing — cooperative recognition of each other’s work can be helpful — but it quickly tends to get you into feelings of obligation and response.

      I’m grateful to have found some very fine folks in my networking, and being in touch with them and finding some support there — outside the public channels, in other words — has been a huge help. I hope you’re finding some good folks and real pals, as well.

      All the best, don’t let the unpleasant parts become too daunting. Sounds to me as if you’ve got a very good handle on when “me first” is taking over — that’s the best assurance against crawling over to the “Me-Pond” for a gaze or two. :)

      Thanks again!

    • says

      Yes! The mutual backscratching is exhausting and never-ending! If you like my work, please share it. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to like your work, and I’m not going to share something or attach my name to something I don’t endorse. I so agree with you on that, Julie!

      • says

        REAL good point, Brea, and a great place for us all to start in looking at our own self-promotion: How frequently might we feel the urge to promo something else we don’t really like, in order to curry favor with others? That’s the kind of honest appraisal that can help every one of us. Very good insight, thanks for it!

      • says

        Flip side of this is your own mother won’t forward your book trailer but she ALWAYS forwards that tell her she will win millions if she forwards the stupid things. LOL.

    • says

      I support my friends’ stuff. PERIOD. how hard is it to press a LIKE button or hit forward or reply? If my friend sell something, I buy three. Its part of the karma game not the obligation game. For me.

  4. says

    Porter, I appreciate the nod! Thank you. Online presence definitely requires discernment and I appreciate your points of targeting your audience, thinking about the purpose of your communication and avoiding blatant self-promotion. I think it’s important we take time to find your authentic voices so that we will be more likely to engage rather than annoy others. I also look at the things that annoy me and stay away from those techniques. Don’t just say, “read my book”. Give the reader a reason to want to.

    Thanks for addressing this relevant topic in your straight-forward, gangbuster way!

    • says

      And how much I always learn from your thoughtful, NON-gangbuster responses, Kathy! :) Thanks so much for the comment here, and for the excellent example of a good way to handle and nurture your accomplishments on your blog, where friends and supporters can celebrate such milestones (congrats again on finishing the draft) without everybody having to stand in the middle of Grand Central. These are tricky issues for all of us, and I’ve been face down at that pond more times than I’d like to concede, too. In fact, in an interesting twist, writing the piece for this morning’s post has left me very sensitive to my own moves online. I’m finding that I don’t have to look too much beyond my own keyboard to see procedures and habits I need to reassess.

      We’re all learning on this bus, huh? On we go. Always grateful to have you along!

  5. says

    A lapse in judgment, yes, that’s what we’ll call the evening I took a picture of the plate of Cuban food at a book club I visited for Hemingway’s Girl. Now I can see how that was 50 shades of Narcissism.

    One point I do often internally debate: when a blogger takes the time to read my novel and provide a nice review, should I RT it on Twitter or “like/share” it on Facebook? I know publicizing a review isn’t going to cause anyone to buy my book, but that is not why I acknowledge it. I want to show support of the blogger and drive traffic to her site as a thank you.

    My husband tells me to stop “liking” and RTing those reviews on Facebook or Twitter. He says that I never see JK Rowling doing that. He thinks aloofness is important. That is difficult for me.

    I’d love to hear what you think about the RTing of and commenting on reviews.

    By the way, this is a great post.

    • says

      very good point Erika. I generally can have the tendency to be a bit aloof, and am generally good at not going overboard or blowing my own trumpet……..and then I became a writer of the self published variety! Ever since all I seem to do is talk about myself; read my blog post, share my thoughts, look at my new review, look at my sample this or that, and today look at my new cover for my new book! I have decided to ease up on the social media and try to include some non-michelle snippets too. I am after all a person and not just a writer. I am also cutting my blog posts down to not bombard people with my ‘wonderful thoughts’.

      Specifically with regard to what you ask, I try to make a mental note and make sure i repay the favour somewhere along the line for commenters and reviewers, but not neccesarily as a RT or immediately.

      Grat post, and great comments :-)

      • says

        Thanks for the good comments in response to Erika, Michelle, just jumping in to say I agree with you on the “not immediately” response, too — maybe we don’t always have to RT and Like and whatnot with such hair-trigger speed. The implied neediness and/or vanity in such moves can really damage what might be a truly honest expression of gratitude. Good thought: timing counts.

        Thanks for reading and discussing, I’m liking the Aloof Team. :)

    • says

      Hey, Erika!

      I’m laughing at the Cuban food pic story — do NOT beat yourself up. Every one of us has had these moments (me, more of them than I’m prepared to “share,” lol) and the best any of us can do is keep testing ourselves and trying to be honest about what feels appropriate and what feels over the top.

      In fact, you’re asking one of the most difficult questions I’ve come across — I see folks wrestle with the question of publicizing their reviews all the time.

      Certainly, one of the best things to do — and I know you’re great with this — is to quote a few words from the review, not even necessarily calling it a review. Just a strong phrase from the write up, the book’s title, and the linkage to the critic/blogger who’s provided it. In this way, you’re focusing on the write-up rather than yourself, and this is, of course, the nicest thing you can do for the reviewer.

      I do think liking a review about your book — even a negative one, by the way, if you’re feeling brave, just to show your acceptance of differing opinions is fine. There’s a point at which NOT liking some kind word for your work almost looks silier than liking it looks self-aggrandizing. But I do understand your husband’s reticence, too, it’s not what some of us are brought up thinking is proper “deportment” (now you KNOW I’m from Charleston) at all.

      And if you’re ever feeling that a like or an RT of something kind about your work just looks too self-flattering, hold off. Sometimes just to let something sit for a bit so it doesn’t appear that you’ve rushed to run it up a flag pole can help, at least in keeping you from feeling too self-promotional.

      Somehow, I love the aloofness I think your husband is alluding to. I wish we could afford more of it these days. This is partly generational, of course, but I also think it’s authentic to the novelist’s stance in the world. We do need a certain remove to pull our souls together and make something of life in fiction — the knockabout, commercial elements of the social media don’t really match that element of a writer’s ethos (not that all writers have ever shared it). The shields are simply down, in Trekkie terminology, these days, and it’s not as easy as it once was to feel that we can maintain — another old-fashioned idea — our dignity. Poise. Regard. Not in high demand these days, are they?

      So case by case basis, follow your good instincts. But on the whole, this is the horse we’re riding now and the direction it’s going is self-promotion. I say we each must pick our best tack and hope not to be left back at the stables because it was just too embarrassing to gather ’round the reflection Me-Pool with everybody else. :)

      THANKS, Erika, you always give us a chance to think. Love that.

      • says

        Your post and response, as always, are enormously helpful (and entertaining.) I like the idea of extracting meaningful quotes, and using wait time. Excellent.

        Many thanks…

        • says

          Erika, if you truly want to promote a reviewer’s blog without being self-aggrandizing, you can link to the general blog address, and not the specific post with the review of your book in it. Or even link to one of their reviews of an author’s book you admire.

          That kind of back-scratching I can handle. It’s the out-and-out panhandling I can’t handle; the begging for contest votes and “author of the month” votes and the “please advertise this to everyone on your list” requests and the “download my book for free now to help my amazon ranking” followed quickly by a request for a review or “Please buy my book” when you just downloaded it for free to “help them”— Makes me nuts!

          But then I realize I’m connected to an awful lot of authors. I once asked my FB friends how many authors they knew and a surprising number said I was the only one. So maybe the general public is not inundated with such messages, and perhaps dealing with this annoyance among author friends is the cross we have to bear for the benefits of networking?

          • says

            Kathryn, just to pick up on one of your great comments, I hope we’re not to be forever on the receiving end of the lesser sort of author tweeting you’re describing. While the general population may not see as much of this as we do (the “vote for my blog for the contest” stuff, etc.), our profession can certainly do all possible to weed out this sort of rank self-promotion. It will take time — and a lot of us refusing to play ball — to root it out of the business, but I believe it can be, largely, countered eventually. I say we don’t have to accept this and our best course is to set examples, ourselves and leave the worst offenders without response.

            Slow going but the right direction.

    • Dianna Rostad (@DiannaRostad) says

      I think of social media in our case as networking. So, from that viewpoint, I don’t see anything wrong with talking about your achievements and then passing on someone’s blog post as long as it’s balanced with other interaction.

      Social media is also about support, and if one of your followers/friends can’t cheer you on when you’re doing well, then…who’s the narcissist now?

      • says

        Thanks, Dianna.

        The point is to be fully conscious of what you think is appropriate and effective in your use of social media. Sounds to me as if you have a considered opinion there — that will always, always beat the approach of someone who hasn’t thought through how he comes across or how she affects others with her approach.

        So congratulations on thinking it out for yourself, and by all means be sure to use your best head like that to sort out your way forward.


    • J says

      I’m okay with seeing food pictures. Sometimes it reminds me of food I like but haven’t had in a while.

      The reason I hesitate to tweet lots of review links is this: Think about the people following our social networks. They’re not following for the purpose of seeing link after link to reviews of our work.

      An option is to @-tweet a thank you the reviewer or interviewer. That acknowledges them and though such tweets are publicly viewable, they don’t show up in everyone’s Twitter stream.

  6. says

    Heaven knows I’ve been guilty often enough of face-down at the me-pond. Funny, the one blog post that I never shared anywhere on the grid still holds the highest pageviews. I felt a little vulnerable about the subject matter, as well as feeling it was a bit whiny, so didn’t post links. Must have been that exposed vulnerability appealed to some who found it anyway, because it also ended up being among the most shared of any of my posts. Maybe I should have the courage to ‘not share’ all of them. Or perhaps I should have the courage to write from the heart every time.

    In any case, in spite of my occasional approval-junkie behavior, I’m much more comfortable sharing links to the worthy articles of others than my own. Regarding sharing my writing accomplishments, I’ve been doing less and less of that. Once you get to “I just finished my 18th revisions of my ms!” sharing it not only rings of the boy who cried wolf, it also robs some of the satisfaction when a high school chum weighs in with, “When are you gonna just self-publish the damn thing, and put us out of our misery.” It can be great to have the support of understanding peers, but you’re right Porter, some circled wagons and limited and definitive milestones are a must for this sort of sharing/bragging.

    Thanks for holding up the mirror for us on this issue, Porter. It’s something we’d better all face if we want to grow beyond it as artists.

    • says

      Aha! “Holding up the mirror” so we can “face it.” You sly dog, Vaughn, still slipping in the smart lines every step of the way, lol.

      And NO bad feelings about waking up face down at the Me Pool, it has happened to every one of us and probably will again, more times than we’d like to concede. We live in such a commercial culture that even if we weren’t trying to develop new post-digital marketing strategies for authors, we’d be touting our wares (and ourselves as those wares’ makers) one way or another. It’s simply a marketing universe now, and we are the first products on our own shelves. How to handle it? We’re all learning together.

      That thing you mention of the irony in a fairly un-heralded piece getting all the hits — all too common. Makes you crazy if you dwell on it. What I really like hearing is that you’ve rethought the impulse to shout out each step you make. As some of my readers know, over time I’ve actually removed just about all elements of works in progress from public view, realizing there’s a reason for the artist’s garret — it’s more than just a great set for an opera, lol, it also gives you some shelter, some peace and unseen quiet so you can focus on making your thing before everybody is all over you to look at it. I’ve come to think NOT talking about our works-in-progress is the smartest thing, not that everyone will or needs to agree. Painting your masterpiece on the Twitter sidewalk? Unthinkable for me these days, but it took me quite a while to realize that –as you say — it sounds like “wolf!” when you keep yelping crap out about each incremental step.

      None of these are unfinished feelings and thoughts for any of us, either. As the social media, themselves, evolve with our use of them, both we and they — as networks to support us — will get better at parsing the public and the personal.

      Right now? It’s one unseemly mess at times, and the old Me-Pool starts to look like something out of National Geographic will all of us pulled up to it for a quick gaze. We’ve still got some work to do, bro. :)

      Thanks for the grand comment, need to catch you on FB, too. Enjoy the privacy of creation where you can. It’s a luxury these days. :)

  7. says

    Well, as I sat here eating my peanut butter & raisin on whole wheat toast (pic of me with holier than thou look eating it to follow), while taking a break from my next novel, which is a rollicking ride of literaryishness awesomeness, finger paused over my laptop keys that I’ve worn to a frazzle writing dazzling prose and interesting blog posts and engaging twitter feeds and pinterest points that anyone could check out not that I’m bragging or begging or hinting or anything, so as I was writing, and speaking of writing, did I say I am writing another novel? I did? Well, as I sat here reading, I thought how as an author of most esteem, I would never stoop to the level of narcissistic behaviors!

    Why, all I do is with most sincerity and alacrity and — hold on, my editor just sent me an email to remind me that one of my books was No 1 on Kindle some time in the past of which I’d FORGOTTEN ALL ABOUT until just NOW!, isn’t that nice of her? I mean, how many editors send such kind notes! Just sharin’ that so all y’all can know how awesome my editor is . . . anyway – yeah, I’m not one to toot my horn! I’m not a braggertarian! No narcissism here!

    Now, I must return to my novel draft and crank out thousands of words in mere moments, because that’s how I roll – just sharin’ that so y’all can be inspired, not that I’m bragggin.

  8. says

    Great post, and some great additions in the comments section! To highlight a few that resonated with me…

    “I am after all a person and not just a writer.” – Michelle Muckley (above)

    That, to me, is the crux of it all, in both directions.

    I don’t mind seeing some of Jamie Ford’s family photos, or Laini Taylor’s husband’s art, or whatever, because they are people, and I’m “following” them in order to glean more about their personalities, their lives, their process, etc., after all.

    However, they are people, and they need to come off that way. If all they do is post me-me-me or my-book-my-book-my-book things, then they lose that human aspect, and thus my attention/interest/respect. (Fortunately neither Jamie nor Laini are guilty of this.)

    “Online presence definitely requires discernment… I also look at the things that annoy me and stay away from those techniques.” – Kathleen Pooler (above)

    Ditto. Parroting what you like is a good way to adopt best practices — and so is avoiding what you dislike.

    One strategy that some people use (including myself, to a degree) is to manage multiple social media, each serving its own purpose. Perhaps your blog is your professional hub, and your Facebook is private and personal, and your Twitter is half and half. Or your Tumblr and Instagram are completely “off-topic,” but your site and FB and Twitter are entirely writing-centric.

    • says

      Hey, Kristan,

      Super to hear from you on this, and great comments, too. (Many today, I agree, including yours!)

      You’re completely right that one challenge here is not to give up too much personhood in the effort to work professionally. And certainly, within various communities/groups/clans/etc., certain interests are central and rightly engaged in by everyone. For example, if you’re in a group of folks who make an issue of their food and sending shots to each other from restaurants and exchanging recipes and so on, that’s a whole different situation. In that case, you have a reason to do this, and what I’d say is that the only thing to consider then is whether you can “corral” that activity — w hich may not match your professional online persona unless you’re a chef! And it sounds to me as if your thinking on “corraling,” for lack of a better term, is excellent. Using one platform for private friends-and-family social interactions and another one for business? Brilliant. That mirrors real life nicely, of course, in which you might be very open about some issues in the privacy of your own dining room but quite circumspect about the same issues in other places, such as the board room.

      Seems to me you’re nicely on top of all this and working with some great approaches to be sure that appearance of narcissism is minimized, knowing that any of us can get into an unfortunately situation at times (and usually do) when we just don’t realize, maybe, how someone will respond to something on a public channel.

      No control of all this is complete, of course, nor do many of us know (I don’t) exactly the right answer to every instance of these issues. But lots of good trial and error will help us learn more, and I really like your good thinking on it.

      Thanks so much, as ever for contributing so much to the conversation!

  9. says

    As someone who was voted Biggest Brown Noser in high school, I feel like I should pop in to comment. :) I wholeheartedly agree that social media and online presence brings out the narcissist in all of us. But what I’ve found most interesting – as someone who has been on Twitter since the early days – is that what gets the most comments and social engagement seem to be the most mundane things, whether I’m using Twitter, Facebook or Instagram) are my pictures of a) food b) what I’m wearing or some little pick me up I’ve purchased or found c) random pictures throughout the day whether it’s nature or holiday decorations, etc. And things like starting Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred because some are interested and it’s something new to talk about. True, most of that has nothing to do with my life as a WRITER but everything to do with my life, period. I’m sure I’m a distant ancestor to Narcissus, but it’s the psychology of human relations and how we think (and what we post) that is fascinating to me. In my 20s, I did a Dale Carnegie course where we had to read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and then I did a self-study on a number of NLP books (neuro linguistic programming) and I use them in my work as a marketer and also in helping my clients market themselves. As a brand strategist, my goal is to help businesses develop a unique story and stay on point. But with a million writers out there on different platforms, what makes them unique is the buffet of their personality – not just one dish from it. It helps me to set them apart – the hiking, vegan writer versus the foodie NYC hot yoga writer versus the pretty mom of three young boys writer (Sarah Jio came to mind on that one. She’s also a bestseller but what endears me to her is her life with her kids.) So, for me, if we all took the “selfie” out of our posts, I’m afraid I wouldn’t form any opinion at all, which in turn would form no bond with the person.
    Then again, I’m strongly considering taking a picture of my red snowflake coffee cup. It’s so darn cute.

    • says

      Hi, Malena,

      Thanks for your comment here and your tweet — sorry, I’ve been in meetings most of the day and not able to get back faster here.

      First, what works for you works for you, and I’m not out to throw you off your pattern. Your way of using these media as, indeed, social media — I’d categorize a lot of what you’re talking about as “visiting” with people, because I’m Southern, lol. This is not only popular but also, of course, perfectly sensible for many. Ironically, it’s also what gives the various media a rather bad name among folks who’d like to see more professionally structured interactions as the lead. While coming back across town, I just dashed into a store to get something for a friend. It wouldn’t occur to me to say something about it on one of my usual soc-med platforms, not in a million years. To picture it (it’s quite nice, actually) would be anathema. I’d be mortified to display something of that kind to my business and other professional associates. But that’s simply the kind of thing that makes us all richly different and thank God for such diversity.

      Second, if your (what I would call) “very-social social media” presence actually relates in some way to your work in publishing, as a writer, a brand wrangler, even as a reader, all the better. For example, I could see a professional scrapbook-er tweeting as you do. Found treasures. Sweet spots in the day. “Pretties” for the living room as my mother called those appalling nothings that somehow got onto every piece of furniture in the South Carolina homes of my youth. In fact, my mother was a huge online cute-stuff type, thoroughly enjoyed “visiting” with people this way, and was loudly applauded by her correspondents for her needlepoint (inevitably cat pictures), toaster covers (cats), toilet seat covers (cats, and I kid you not), and African violets. I wouldn’t have taken a moment of this haze of happiness from her, and am glad she had access to it late in her life when it supported her. But was she trying to become a serious writer and publisher of books? Nope. Would she, in fact, have even read today’s post at Writer Unboxed? Not even if I sent her the link and asked her to. She wasn’t developing a professional persona. Which was great.

      The challenge this hands us today, however, is quite real and very much in our faces daily. Those, in particular, who have come to social media for “visiting” with each other before trying to develop a presence for themselves online as serious, professional writers, indeed, can find there’s a big, painful problem waiting. What is one supposed to do? Run off all the friends and family? Shoo them out the door so you can bring in the publishing industry glum faces you now work with? Firewall them into a safe spot on Facebook and try not to let them find you on other platforms?

      No. But in a case like yours, and not knowing, mind you, how you’re trying to position yourself as a writer — fiction or nonfiction, serious or lighthearted, etc. — it sounds to me as if your existing online persona is precisely what you want it to be. And that’s all that really counts.

      Me, I won’t be looking at your food, what you’re wearing, the pick me ups you find along the way, or the holiday decorations. But that is not a problem.

      What I want you to do is be conscious of how you present yourself this way, and you’re already that in spades. You’ve clearly thought about it, you know how you’re handling yourself online, you know how it fits into what you want to do, and I say go forth with my blessings and forgive me when I don’t shout back about that cute mug picture.

      The people I worry about are the ones who have given this no thought. You’re working to use diversity as an element of brand strategy, right? So it sounds like the diverse, happy-wanderer thing you do online is right in line with that. If I were doing your job, I might try to develop ways that the work itself — the writings of my branded-author clients, for example — carried the delightful diversity to attract readers, more than the personalities of those writers. I’m not convinced yet that we all have to behave as cheerful cousins in order to get sales of books. I may be dead wrong. Cousin Margaret Atwood is getting chummier by the moment. With thousands of people. :) http://publishingperspectives.com/2012/11/ether-for-authors-circling-the-collective/#6

      Meanwhile, don’t change a thing if it works for you. That’s what counts. The day may come, Malena, when I need Instagram lessons from you on how to take a shot of “this great gift I just found at the mall for a friend.” (If I don’t shoot myself first.)

      You enjoy your online life, in other words, you’ve clearly got it nailed. May the rest of us know as expertly as you what we’re doing. :)

      • says

        Good points, Porter. I think since we go through our feed so quickly – at least I do – I only really pay attention to what catches my eye, not the many that don’t. We look for what appeals to us and the rest gets passed by. I like to be educated and entertained. The more, the merrier.

  10. says

    Excellent post, Porter and WU. Sharing is such a fine line to walk in all of life. Maybe if we just think of our online sharing as whatever we would share in, say, a restaurant full of acquaintances and friends in real life. If what we share passes that test, for me at least, it isn’t about me but about truly connecting with others.

    Thank you for the great food for thought!

    • says

      An excellent test, Jennifer, thanks for bringing it to the discussion.

      It’s quite remarkable how some folks feel comfortable doing things online, saying things online, “sharing” in ways online they’d never dream of doing “in real life” or IRL, as it’s called. If more of us took a moment to ask ourselves, “would I show this pic around in person?” — or better yet, “if I got this pic in my feed, what would I think of the sender?” — we’d all have a much more conscious community. And consciousness is really what’s wanted here. I’m hoping that folks simply work a bit harder to become conscious of how they’re using their media, rather than just falling into habits and structures of interaction without thinking about it.

      Grand of you to help us with those thoughts, with such a smart contribution of your own. Cheers!

  11. says

    Answer the #1 reportorial question first and that slashes your unconscious narcissistic sins to near zero: who cares?

    If more of us would stop, take a breath, and ask that one question before posting any of our social media meanderings, fewer of us would feel the need to write about web-based narcissism again.

    And that would be a delight.

    • says

      Gosh, yes, Melanie. Thank you for this.

      In fact, I almost went there. The big question of “who cares?” is so fundamental to what we should be doing when we address the public in any form, online or off. Journalists do get this because they must fight for stories in newsrooms at times on the basis of how many readers/users/viewers/listeners might care, as you know.

      But in common parlance today, the “who cares?” question has almost become non-PC to ask. In some strange way, it’s become uncouth to suggest that somebody’s onion rings at lunch may have zero actual interest out there. Zero. Jeff Bercovici in his piece at Forbes I quoted, opens with a fascinating example of a friend who tries a joke in the room. If no one laughs, she tweets it. If no one “lol’s” it and RTs it, she puts it on Facebook. In short, she keeps trying it on various platforms until she gets a reaction she feels is appreciative for her humorous creativity.

      Frankly, I look at non-stop cellphone talkers with the same bewilderment, too. When you overhear the brain-deadening banality of so many conversations (“I’m walking into the grocery store now, getting a cart…”) I can’t for the life of me fathom what comotose invalid is on the other end listening to such relentless drivel. But we’re not supposed to say that, either.

      Somehow, it’s important to us now to honor everyone’s communications as important, though we know they aren’t. I don’t think this helps us. But it’s the weird conceit of the realm right now, a token of how we treat these media and our lives on them.

      And, of course, it makes the questions about how professionals should navigate such kneedeep trivia all the harder. In many locations, using a cellphone while driving is still legal. That’s how reticent we are to move against the daily dumb-down of mass communications. And it’s why I call it a PC issue and problem for those of us who want to talk seriously about it. (Thank you for being one of them.)

      In the final analysis, the online media may prove not to have been as helpful to professionals as we’ve hoped. I’m not sure we CAN cut through the dreck and make meaningful, profitable channels of true importance open up in such a swamp of silliness (I’m now talking far, far beyond publishing, just to be clear, right across the whole spectrum of what goes on in the social media).

      Time will tell. Thanks for your good, honest thoughts. Please keep speaking that way to me and all the rest of us. Over time, we’ll move past this squeamish age when to speak ill of something or someone is so hated.

      Thanks so much,

  12. says

    This discussion has been good for me to read today. Being new to Twitter and finding Facebook overwhelming, social networking is a challenge to me. I am paranoid about coming off as a narcissist, but I do run to check the stats on my blog and am devestated when my small circle of twitter followers dwindles. Lately, I’ve realized that blogging and tweeting about the craft in general and avoiding most hints about my specific projects is important – separating my projects from the social sphere, keeping perspective, trying to be just another human. That’s all I can do when I feel like a little fish in a giant school of bigger fish.

    • says

      And what a great way to explore your best “level” of interaction, Jillian, congratulations.

      What you’re describing is a process of elimination — easier than said than done — in which you remove various kinds of interactions to see what the response is to the ones left. Remember to give each type of presence online a good two to four weeks, to be sure you’re getting a valid read on how well it goes down with your contacts. (Even daily news can skew things — during Hurricane Sandy, for example, a lot of business coverage went unfollowed simply because people were struggling with personal crises brought on by the storm).

      Eventually, you’ll have a very sophisticated fix on what your folks want to have from you and what they don’t. This is great. Sensible and responsible. More power to you, and thanks for commenting, all the best with it!


  13. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    I get your point, Porter (and Pressfield’s and company), although a little part of me wonders how much of an oxymoron this whole discussion is (and the fact that I’m replying to it, too).

    On the plus side– it is a fact that social media is waking up the world to dialogue/action on important social/political issues that didn’t have a voice before, and perhaps the very fact that we are examining our narcissism in social media on social media is the proof of the pudding.

    (…even if a million instagrams of homemade chocolate mousse are being uploaded at this very minute, too).

    • says

      Bernadette, you have a completely valid point, hands down.

      There’s no doubt that even this discussion of who and what we become online is fraught with a kind of narcissism, in and of itself.

      It’s a bit like trying to sort out the Protestant Reformation, isn’t it? As soon as you think you see daylight outside the church door, you have to ask yourself, “Well if we’re not all good Christians, would we even go through all this?” And the answer, of course, is no.

      So whether hammering a new treatise on the door of the cathedral or posting something about narcissism at Writer Unboxed, the question has been well and truly begged, and congratulations for being such a clear-headed thinker as to see this. You’re light-years beyond the standard.

      If we could make a three-dimensional edition of WU, the level I’d most like in terms of our great discussion here today would be the one on which we asked whether today’s social media don’t actually engender the bizarre but important development of a whole new form of self-regard and understanding … a new “me” who is, in fact, a performance first and foremost, and “the real me” second.

      We might already have stepped onto that Lucite floor. Time alone will tell.

      Be good to yourself while we wait for further info.

  14. says

    I think the writers who over-share become wallpaper, especially on Twitter.

    Share a great review once or twice, and people may click, read, RT. Share it twelve times a day, every day for a month, maybe not so much? Or no?

    But then I see the over sharers picked up by HuffPo, etc. So am I wrong? Am I too aloof?

    • says

      Ah, Mari,

      You’re neither too aloof, nor wrong.

      The problem is that such outlets as the Huffington Post may not be making editorial decisions on the basis of quality or importance of content. What they want may be head-turning audacity, overstatement, alarmist hyperbole. This is just about the only type material that can break through the fog-of-more when we’re so utterly overrun by too much content, as we are in this culture. That includes far, far too many books, by the way.

      The over-sharers, as you phrase it, are running on the “weapons of mass destruction” principle: Say “weapons of mass destruction” enough times, and everybody will believe they’re there, even if they aren’t. Over-sharers (which is to say, over self-promoters, because I don’t believe they’re “sharing” anything) are easily handled. You just block them. Works like a charm. :)

      Thanks for your comment and for reading!

  15. says

    Back in the day (actually a year ago, hehe), I used to update my word count on facebook- I found it a huge encouragement when my friends from home, school, work, everywhere, were cheering me on. Now, though, I’ve naturally stopped doing it. I’ve also stopped posting as many links to my professional blog.
    I’ve simply found that I want my friends to be my friends and my audience to be my audience. If there’s overlap, that’s awesome. And when I someday find representation and get published, you can bet your sweet bippy there’ll be a facebook post! But in general, my facebook is for news regarding my life and my blog is for news regarding my writing.
    And pictures of food? Try descriptions of food! I am part of a family of amazing cooks-
    “Oh no! The home-made brownies are finished and I’m holding my sleeping newborn!” Posted at 9:00 AM. No joke.
    “One of my whole-wheat old grain sage and pepper loaves just didn’t come out today. And I spent all day hand-kneading it!”
    Sheesh. :)

    • says

      YOU have quite a yummy challenge there with such cooking in the family, Laura! In some ways I envy that, though I can just imagine the online chatter. :)

      I like how you’re talking of separating the “church and state” of your friends and professional life per platform — the blog for work, Facebook or another medium for lifestyle.

      In real life, we don’t (unless we’re ready to be fired) go in to work with all our homelife travails fluttering like flags on a pole. We learn to contain our personal issues for the workday so we interact and perform with colleagues as co-workers.

      So I think it’s less a leap than some seem to feel it is to the online need to be similarly careful. And I think you’re getting a great handle on it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  16. says

    It seems to me a very fine line between sharing, gaining visibility, and narcissism. As writers, we have to get visibility in order to gain readers, but it’s pretty easy to forget what is business and what is personal in social media. We hear that readers want to connect with the person, but then sharing personal things can backfire, unless we figure out how to walk that tightrope between too much and too little. Perhaps walking that line is precisely in sharing where it’s most appropriate.

    At risk of sounding like my grandmother, what is crazy to me is that 20 years ago this wasn’t an issue! Heck, for me, this wasn’t even an issue five years ago!

    • says

      Hey, Lara! I’m with you and your grandmother! This wasn’t the monstrous thing it is for me five years ago, either. Being in the media, I had some stuff churning around about public and private persona (in journalism, you either worry about that or your bosses will worry about it for you), but you’re putting your finger on one reason this is tricky for all of us — it’s new! Still quite new!

      And as we know, there are generational differences, maybe (as our colleague Jan O’Hara mentions, maybe even gender differences) in what we all think is rightful activity online.

      Erving Goffman, who wrote his landmark “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’ in 1959, simply would not believe all this. What we’re facing now (without his expert help in sociology) is right off the charts). So don’t worry, it’s not just you.

      And I agree, too, that we get deeply conflicting signals on this, too. Share yourself as a person…share yourself only as a business person…reveal, reveal…restrain, restrain…it’s all the classic symptoms of a shakedown.

      Hang on tight, and thanks for reading and commenting — the important thing is that we think about all this and not just let it happen to us. Decide to do one thing today and you can change it tomorrow if need be. It’s the consciousness that’s important.


  17. says

    Guilty as charged. Though I try to avoid bragging of any kind on social media I did post on FB when my NaNo novel reached 50,000 words. I beg your forgiveness. Thanks for a great reminder to all of us, Porter.

    • says

      Nooo, CG, no apologies for hitting the magic 50,000 words on Nano — and it’s not even the end of November yet, man. Bravo! Delighted to know and admiring of the accomplishment.

      Seriously, as generously and faithfully as you comment and engage with us all here at WU, I don’t think there’s anybody on the next 15 Greek islands who’s going to call you narcissistic. :)

      And every single one of us — starting with Mr. Smart-Guy Here — have gotten out on these tingling networky hotlines to shout about our fine moments (and not so fine, sometimes), don’t feel alone. I can cringe for a long time thinking back over the times I’ve said some inane thing on Twitter or Facebook that really was insensitive and not even smart (though I always thought it was), but inevitably was about wanting attention. As Pressfield tells us, there are so many, many ways our smart minds can fool themselves about these tendencies.

      The best thing of all is bringing it to consciousness (which is all I’m really doing, myself — still trying to come up to speed with what our colleague Jane Friedman calls “being human at electric speed,” her great line from McLuhan).

      No apologies here, we’re all gathered around the Me-Pond on this one, and great of you to read and comment, as always, sir. :)

  18. says

    Believe it or not, through temperament and training, my inclination is to be a listener and facilitator. If I were operating in the medical field, I’d agree with your delineation of the personal and professional.

    But it’s a lot murkier in writing, from what I can see. Some of the writers I respect the most are virtually invisible online. Others have 100,000 plus tweets, with the followers to match. They live large publicly and write large and it works for them.

    For want of a better dichotomy, are there masculine and feminine ideas of what social media are about? (One where we should stick to business, and the other where it’s about relationship.)

    In a global medium, even tweeting about book business can come off as narcissistic, or at the very least insensitive. There is chaos in the Middle East–okay, you caught me; there’s always chaos in the Middle East–the point being when one is under mortar fire, a tweet about ebook sales percentages could seem sadly out of step, if not cruel.

    I’m not trying to rattle your chain, Porter. Rather, I’m thinking aloud. I appreciate that you make me think what *I* believe and where I need to dial back.

    • says

      Jan! Apologies for the bad delay in response here – a complicated 18 hours or so here.

      But to your good question, sure, if you get a very high view, even worrying about medicine, education, and world economics can start to look like stuff that will get us turned into small spring flowers with headachy-sweet fragrances.

      I’m helped in your specific example of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by my news background, which, over time, leads journalists focused on that part of the world or other hotspots to realize that, in fact, the day-to-day march of a certain amount of less-fearful, less-life-or-death communication actually seems to help those caught in the crossfire of aggression. The reminder that real life awaits on the other side of the current flare-up is important in places of cyclical violence, in particular. This is by no means to excuse frivolous comment hurled insensitively AT those or
      ABOUT those caught in these nightmares. No, I’m talking about a “backdrop of normality” which becomes the goal, the North Star, the “other side,” the “when this one is over.”

      Idiots, as you and I know, will take that kind of thinking to extreme and live frivolous lives.

      But those with some perspective like yours — and like the view of world hunger I was lucky enough to get when I was with the UN’s World Food Programme — will, in fact, know not to curtail their own lives of abundance but to try to bring the rest of the world into that tent, to find the ways to achieve abundance for everyone, sharing what we can, training where we can, investing when we can in the ways and means we have (few of them perfect yet) to try to spur other populations to accomplish what THEY can and enter the richer lives they deserve.

      On a day to day basis? No, we’re not narcissistic for tweeting about publishing. In fact, literature — even the kind of entertainment genre-mill work I run from but the majority of readers enjoy — is a civilizing, forward-leaning force in world culture. It’s too bad that so many of our tweets have to be about ridiculous shortcomings in how publishing is managed, promoted, structured, unstructured, upended, and pretty much lost on the high plain of “what just hit us? Digital what??” But, it is a worthy and potentially formidable force — when we can get its shit back together — for progress and peace and the grace of intelligence. We have to see it from the trenches of its current confusion. Not pretty. But we’re scratching, tweet-by-tweet, toward something more equitable, enlightening, and ennobling than we had before.

      This, if anything, remembered well before we push SEND each time? Might keep us off the slippery slope of that mossy banked Me-Pond better than anything else.

      As ever, thanks so much for the serious thinking you do on these issues. Spread that around, we need so very much more of it these days.


  19. says

    I’m going to have to think more about this topic too. I enjoy seeing pictures (and recipes) of things my online friends have made, and I like sharing that I grew a great crop of tomatoes and turned them into a dish. I would tell my friends IRL that, so I haven’t felt it wrong to tell my online friends. Even if it is bragging a little. I would consider it obnoxious if I posted that after someone I knew said her garden had failed or something, but just as I wouldn’t do that in person I wouldn’t do it online. I am also not turned off if someone tweets a picture of their blood orange martini or something because it’s pretty. For me, it depends on the context. What else are they sharing and what kind of comment goes with it.

    However, you remind me that I don’t know the situation of everyone looking at a picture of a lovely plate of food. Maybe they just got fired? Maybe they are unable to buy groceries? It brings home that I don’t know everyone who’s looking at something I’ve shared when I tweet or Facebook it.

    I’m with Jan. Not trying to pick a fight, just thinking that I need to think more about what I consider in poor taste. Is there a difference between tweeting a plate of fresh baked brownies and tweeting a new $1,000 handbag? I think so, but maybe I’m wrong.

    • says

      Hey, Carleen,

      Thanks for the really thoughtful response here. Sorry for my late reply, I’m in a busy week and we’re getting this fantastic turnout of great discussion on this topic from so many great people here!

      I don’t fault you for sharing things like your recipes and vegetable triumphs — having none at all to my name, I’m pretty envious. :)

      And I think you’re wonderfully sensitive to go on to worry about the folks who don’t have such abundance. My days as a producer with the United Nations’ World Food Programme taught me the devastating depths of the world hunger crisis — it is truly nightmarish — and helps me appreciate even more the kind of care you’re considering.

      I tell you what this makes me think — and it’s only a suggestion, as is my whole post, of course: I’d say you’re a perfect candidate for bifurcation of your online life. Meaning, you may want to enjoy your food-related and lifestyle communications on one or more platforms with a closed group of like-minded friends. Then use another account (another Twitter handle, for example) for your online professional presence. This is done by many people well, particularly those who love wrangling about politics but who realize that they can actually drive away customers and/or clients if they “do politics” in open session online.

      The question we all face — with you, not separately from you, and I in no way see your comment as picking a fight — is just this: How widely, how broadly, how universally do we need the things of our lives that are personal and MIGHT appear to someone as narcissistic to be out there?

      For example, you rightly say that you’d mention your food things to a friend in real life. Of course, and great. But when you mention them to that friend in real life, do 20 million other people in all parts of the world suddenly hear your comment fly by?

      The comparisons of our online life to real life just don’t wash at times, although I, like you, try to make them all the time. But life online is not the same as life offline. If I tell a friend in the elevator that I got a flu shot yesterday (which I did, I love flu shots), what goes down in that elevator stays in that elevator. But because I just told you here? Untold thousands, even millions of people have the chance to know it. Who cares about my flu shot? No one. But you see my point.

      Online, we’re not in the elevator anymore, no longer just chatting entre nous about flu shots and veggies. We’re standing atop the largest pedestal for human expression the world has ever known. The megaphone is always on.

      And although it takes a whole lot of work to get our heads around it (hence posts like this!), we simply have got to get a handle on this, especially in an industry like publishing that has such a large presence online.

      Thanks again — and you’re not alone, we all have to do more thinking on this. What Erving Goffman wrote up as “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” in 1959 has simply done cartwheels in the last decade and way too many people aren’t yet doing what you’re doing — thinking about this, mulling it over. That’s my only real purpose here (as I nose-dive into the Me-Pond myself, lol): Consciousness. I want folks to think about it, actively, front-of-brain, to be sure they at least are asking themselves if who and what they are online is what they meant to be.


  20. Ray Pace says

    Believe me, I’ve had it up to here with narcissism and I’m not alone. Barack and Michele the other night were discussing this with a group of us the other night over Lobster Newburg and Chateau Briand as we planned the next moves on the nation’s economy. Bill and Hil were gracious enough to ask me about how I was doing in the nanowrimo effort. In case you missed it, my word count is up over 48,000.

    • says

      Thank God, Keith — or the gods, if you’re hanging out at the Me-Pond with us — you’ve come by to remind us that it’s all about you. What was I thinking? Of course!

      Right you are, enough of this nonsense, back to you and thanks for the reminder.

      See you at the Me-Pond.

      Actually, I won’t see you because I’ll be gazing at myself.

      Try not to ripple the surface, OK? You know how I hate being disturbed during my self-regard sessions.


  21. says

    Thank you gor the fun, funny but sldo tjought orovoking topic.

    I don’t do much bragging. In fact, I think I have gone the opposite direction. That said, I really hate to read other people’s updates about their writing when they are posted as blog entries. Those should be for the select few — the inner sanctum. I understand they are supposed to keep people accountable, but they make me feel like shit. And I don’t care how many words someone typed in any given week.et me know when your book is done.

    Equally awful: Automated messages from Twitter asking me to buy their books. Yuck. I just met you and you are pimping me? No thank you, please.

    • says

      You’re in good — and big — company, Renee, especially on the question of automated responses. Hugely frowned upon in the soc-med industry and really not to be done by anyone who’s trying to present her- or himself to the world as a creative-industry worker. “Here’s a machine to pitch you because I’m too busy” … ridiculous.

      And yes, the idea of using a small group — maybe beta readers, maybe a group of fellow writers, etc. — as your sounding board for progress reports (which really can help egg each other on, too) is a great one in smartly confined formats. A Google+ circle, for example, can keep someone nicely in touch with a group of fellow writers, and the public never has to be exposed to those word counts and progress reports.

      Sounds to me as if you’re right on top of this, and thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  22. says

    Porter–this was great! The example I’m always preaching against in my Twitter tips is this one:

    “Thanks to @___, @____, @_____ for RTing my post on point of view http://blahblahblah.com

    That is not a real “thank you.” That is–“let’s keep talking about my post.”

    • says

      On the nose, Nina —

      In fact, I call that kind of “thank you” a matter of “moving names around.” The idea of that is often simply to get tracking systems such as Klout to see someone’s handle moving about and interacting. The algorithmic traces, in fact, are usually not fooled by this kind of thing, anyway. But no, it’s hardly real interaction.

      Granted, we’re all busy. So busy. It becomes tempting to dump everyone’s name into a single tweet and get it out. But you’re right that for some people, this is quite narcissistic, as a chance to show off all the folks who have (supposedly) been RT-ing one’s jewels of wisdom.

      The bottom line is that genuine communication is still the only real thing that flies. It should be really interesting to see what’s left of the sort of ploy you’re describing, in, say, five years.

      Thanks for the super comment!

  23. says

    Loved this post. Thanks for a great reminder about *not* going ‘face down in the me-pond’ (and yes, that is brilliant!).

    My pet peeve is when writers tweet 99% marketing links, blurbs, and pitches for their own books. Tiresome. Unfollow!

    Your post really makes me think about my own tweets, and inspires me to think much more before I tweet too much me-me-me stuff.


    • says

      Fabulous, Carolyn, thanks for being so receptive and perceptive of what folks are doing online — and for thinking through your own strategy. It’s a learning experience for all of us, that’s for sure, and sometimes as much error as trial.

      I’m waving to you from the Me-Pond. :)

  24. says

    thanks for a terrific article, and the links to the other articles. The quote from Ovid is stunning. “Target your triumph” is great (and practical) advice.

    I admit I am just a touch amused that you take so much exception to pictures of food. I’m not interested in them myself, but most of the people I know who post them are housewives trading chat and recipes over the virtual back fence. Mostly harmless.

    For me the most obnoxious updates are the vaguebooking kind, especially if they are passive-aggressive swipes at other people they -know- will be seeing those updates. I’m not sure if those should be classed as narcissistic.

    • says

      Hey, Donna —

      You’re totally right that recipe exchanges and chat across that virtual back fence is all completely harmless. Where it comes into play for me is when I find professional colleagues using the same channels they use for great business tweets all day to suddenly start pumping out these look-where-I’m-dining-tonight pics. Suddenly, your perception of a coworker, a respected associate, changes radically. The ballgame is all new and not nice. For some reason, many folks these days are eager to make their professional and personal personalities the same … but in that case, they bring a lot of things to the conference table that really belong at the kitchen table.

      Put another way, no one — not even Generation Y — has really figured this out well yet. Younger people in particular are hoping to ease some of the firewalls of older generations between work and personal lives, which is not bad. But doing that, once you wade into the desserts-and-cat-pictures end of things, doesn’t fly as smoothly as they might wish.

      As for dissing other people’s work? A hugely unprofessional tack to take in open session online, highly unwise. Probably narcissistic in some way (at least in one’s high regard for oneself as a critic) but political suicide. Nobody trusts the guy who slags everybody else. Those folks don’t do well online, just as in life, happily.

      Thanks for thinking about this, great to have your comment!

  25. Marilyn Slagel says

    Porter, Porter, Porter! You are killing me with this one. Guilty as sin here on a number of things – but not food. I rarely cook anymore. Thank goodness, or I’d be slapping it on FB, too.

    I thought an ex of mine was the only N. I knew. Even though I was wrong, I’ll never let him know.

    Great article and very timely. :)

  26. says

    Thanks, Marilyn, and we just won’t tell the ex, no (I think he was here at the Me-Pond with me a few minutes ago, lol).

    Keep the faith, we’re all trying to figure this one out. Guilt all around the pond. :)


  27. Jane McLoughlin says

    A great post and series of responses. The early comment about facebook and twitter feeling a bit like high school leads me to my own thought. Sometimes, the platforming and self-promotion (often justifiable) and sharing of good news (again, not always obnoxious or bad) can be depressing. If one’s writing or one’s life isn’t quite as vibrant or successful as everyone else’s seems (!) to be, it’s easy to get down-hearted. Sometimes everybody on social media seems like the homecoming queen while I feel like the lumpen chunker who nobody asks to dance! Stepping away from the “platform” sometimes is important. You’re not going to miss anything and, chances are, nobody will miss you!

  28. says

    Well, I did tweet my NaNoWriMo word counts – but I also used the hashtag. More details were usually shared with a small group of friends, however.

    Pictures of food? Occasionally. Again, more with private friends on Facebook (who probably actually care), but sometimes it’s more of a “ha, I did it!” such as the first time I made a homemade pizza.

    Most of my personal woes/triumphs get shared on my personal Facebook page, amongst people who really are friends and really do care that I just made the most perfect souffle ever. =)

    I try to make conversations on Twitter and not just about me. But now that I have a book out, I have to straddle the fine line of promotion (because as a self-pubbed author who else is going to do it?) and looking like a narcissistic ass.

    And just as I decide that “thanks for the RT” is really just not necessary, someone comes along and makes me doubt myself – that when someone goes out of his/her way to help me out, I should thank them.

    Basically, I just try to think “Would this irritate me if I saw it in my stream/feed?” before hitting that button. Sometimes I probably miss the mark, but hey, we’re all human, right?

  29. says

    My bad. I mean, your bad. I am sorry to cast stones at the critics out there but don’t they know that the act of saying “I do this social media thing better” or “don’t do that SM at all” is . . . NARCISSISTIC itself (self)?! Hello, u-b-dubious? Are you listening self-lover, photo-poster-hater but not narcissistic people? Or maybe you are so good at hiding narcissism that you ONLY post on your blog or in secret narc-groups? LOL. And by that you mean your blog about . . . YOU, YOURS & YOUR OPINION. Oh never mind, I am only talking to myself about myself. I DID post lines from my prologue on Facebook BUT I HAVE NEVER posted an ultrasound of my baby. So there (even if don’t have a baby.) I love this discussion more than my post will show you because I can’t admit you might be right and I am wrong. Its just not possible.

  30. says

    OMG, it’s December…where did November go???

    Sorry for the lateness of my comment, Porter. The food stories, the me-pond stuff, not to mention politics…all reasons why I have two Facebook pages. The friends on my personal page – and most of them are real, live, flesh-and-blood friends – enjoy or at least tolerate my rants and double ententres. Those who follow my author page exist only on the internet – most of them I’ve never met. I think of that one as my “grownup” page.

    The truly distressing thing for me is authors who post only about themselves. They rarely promote other authors or books. They rarely share anything that’s not about them. “I don’t mean to brag, but…” If I had a dollar for every post that opens that way…

    I have to admit, though, I went on my personal page a few minutes ago and the first three things in my news feed were pictures of food. All I could think of was “stop – you’re making me hungry.”


  31. says

    I love this post, especially the line, “eat it, don’t tweet it.”

    I worry that we (or I or many of us) feel that we need to document every important social event or milestone on social media, or it didn’t really happen. This is more of an issue on Facebook than on my blog or Twitter. Instead of just enjoying a concert, people tweet or Instagram a blurry image of the stage. It’s narcissistic, but it’s also a strange need to validate one’s experiences with an amorphous group of semi-strangers.