How Facebook Challenges Narcissism

The great culturally-critical cliche these days has been the claim that Facebook (as well as it’s similar competitor, Twitter) is for self-absorbed narcissists intent only on furthering their personal brand and drawing attention to themselves. This claim is based on some amount of truth: there are those out there who use Facebook for exactly such a purpose, and there are many web sites that enourage people to do as much.

What this claim ignores, however, is that a major part of Facebook has less to do with me and more to do with every one else I have a relationship with. I don’t typically  log in to Facebook to read about myself or even update my info several times a day. In fact, the basic interests, etc. in my profile hasn’t been updated in quite a while. Yes, I do update my status a few times every day, and I occasionally take quizzes, but these activities are not narcissistic in nature: they are social.

In other words, Facebook destroys my tendency to focus on myself exclusively and forces me to focus outwardly. While those who claim Facebook is too narcissistic write lengthy theological and ethical tomes for their blogs which happen to be named after themselves, I find myself genuinely interested in people I am “friends” with on Facebook. While I recognize that reading status messages, writing on walls and sharing quiz results does not equal a relationship, I do believe that they can aid one. Recently a status message on Facebook indicated that a friend of mine was having a hard time, which tipped me off that maybe I should call him. We had a really good talk and the friendship is better for it.

What could I have done better with my time? Read more Bible? Studied more theology? Browse more blogs? The one thing all of these have in common is that they’re passive and unsocial, and while they are all incredibly good things, they can in and of themselves become narcissistic activities. The human condition is like this. We are prideful people who would often prefer to spend all of our time by ourselves, doing “good” things on our own and for ourselves while our friends and family are hurting and in need.

Facebook often puts these hurts and needs in our face to the point where we can’t ignore it anymore. It complicates our lives in a good way, making us cry when others cry and rejoice when others rejoice. This should be sounding familiar.

I find all of this exponentially valuable in that it encourages me to reconsider how I think about various people in my life. Facebook’s relentless insistance that each and every person you add on Facebook is your “friend” drives home a reality that is not realized enough in our compartmentalized society: that every relationship you have is crucial. Every person you speak to has incredible joys and unspeakable sadnesses.

Before Facebook, we could escape from the lives of others, while others were blissfully unaware of our own lives. Some may view this as a good thing. Some may find the lives of others monotonous, superfluous, or uncomfortable. Me, I call it real life, and it’s the sort of thing I think is worth devoting time to.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com Drew

    Good word Rich,

    Its this ability Facebook gives me to connect with people that keeps me on it.

    Drews last blog post..Is Delaying Marriage a Sign of Responsibility?

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I’ve always found the criticism of Facebook as being essentially narcissistic to be dryly humourous—as the very act of offering the criticism is, in its essence, a promotion of ego (which is what 98.6% of the critics mean when they reference narcissism). To make known one’s criticism of a thing is to propose that one’s own opinion on a matter is so valuable and important that it deserves to be heard. People don’t make criticisms randomly or without at least a split-second’s consideration. Speaking one’s thoughts is a calculated endeavor designed inherently to promote one’s self.

    Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Assertion of the ego is both valuable and deserved.

    What I don’t think that people get is that promotion of the ego is not the same thing as narcissism. Narcissism, likely is a corruption of the other, but there is nothing inherently wrong or unhealthy about the other. To suggest that the ego should be mortified is to ignore the value inherent to it. We are each of us fashioned in the image of God. Not just a group, but as individuals. The best proof that asserting the ego (as opposed to sublimating it into the community—as if this can even be done) is good is that God forbids us to kill one another. I cannot kill you because you&#8212as an individual—have value. And therefore, assertion of that individuality, of the ego, is a proper thing.

    Narcissism may be assertion of the ego at the expense of other egos. Monologue is narcissism while dialogue is ego asserted properly.

    The Danes last blog post..20090414.zombieBears

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  • MizRE

    Agreed! Here’s the next Quiz post I expect to see from the yo-yos who clutter my Facebook page touting themselves with results from these meaningless quizzes (it’s kind of like how people claiming to be reincarnated are always royalty…)

    “I took the quiz “WHICH MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM DO I HAVE?”

    You have Narcissistic Personality Disorder as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, IV edition

    Defined as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, you fit five (or more) of the following characteristics:

    (1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

    (2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

    (3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

    (4) requires excessive admiration

    (5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

    (6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

    (7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

    (8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

    (9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes”

  • http://reformedandreforming.org Jesse Wisnewski

    Great insight. I especially liked how you drew attention to other unsocial activities like Bible reading and praying.

    Cheers, Jesse


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