Why Our Narcissism is Growing

Many people claim that the entire social media business model enables narcissistic people to thrive. Is this true? Let’s take a deep dive.

If it is in fact true, then this idea would be predicated on people being attracted to posts that attack others. Kind posts, by this reasoning, would not tend to incite as much emotion and interest.

Narcissistic? Come to the Front of the Line

As it turns out, this is precisely what is occurring. A University of Winnipeg study that analyzed every single Tweet posted by US members of congress between 2009 and 2019 found that when they express more negative incivility toward others on social media, they receive more Likes and Retweets than when they post positive or neutral comments.

In other words, the toxic posts of politicians become more popular than those expressing positive feelings, which reinforces such negative online behavior. 

Supporting this finding, a New York University study that analyzed over 2.7 million Facebook and Twitter (now X) posts found that negative, hostile messages attacking an outgroup are twice as frequently shared or retweeted than messages directed toward an ingroup.

A New Low

How did we, as a society, arrive at this desolate, values-deficient place where we pay technology companies to incite hatred? 

The initial enthusiasm for social media anticipated that it would encourage people to express their views more both online and in person. Neither has happened. Instead, recent research has found that people speak up less in person now for fear of retribution. 

Why? Social media has helped them realize there are many opposing views out there that they would prefer not to confront. Most people now “go along to get along” while a few outspoken extremists dominate the social media chat waves.

This collective blandness has emerged because we are all aware that the Internet never forgets. We do not wish to share views that will be etched into cyberspace forever and potentially earn us an irrevocable “that guy/that woman” label when we are applying for jobs, dating online, or doing just about anything that involves other people. 

So what do we do? We remain silent while those with little to lose run the digital roost and wedge us further apart from each other.

Like the Nazi bureaucrats who surprised the world in Nuremburg with their unquestioned conformity to a cause to which they had not given much thought, we fall in line.

Social Riches Aplenty and Available …

Living a richer life in the third millennium means that the next time there is an opportunity to connect with others in person and an emotion is compelling you to keep on moving in order to tend to the limitless electronic queue of people vying for your attention, you can preempt this socially disconnecting behavior.

How? By affirming to yourself, “I will not allow the anxiety associated with my futile quest for an empty email, text or Whatsapp inbox to prevent me from connecting in real time with real people. Such connections are the only way to fulfill my social needs. The rest is an illusion.”

Making such a bold statement to yourself is the first step toward revitalizing your social life. 

How can you put thought into action and change how you relate to the glowing screen in your hand?

Be the Change

Here are a few strategies that I recommend in my book Screened In: The Art of Living Free in the Digital Age

If you are at a lunch and about to check your phone while a friend goes to the bathroom, resist the temptation and instead think of questions to ask your friend when she or he returns to help them think through some of the pressing life issues they’ve been sharing with you. Alternatively, just sit and reflect on your life.

If you happen to be single and are visiting a family and they invite you to stay for dinner, instead of refusing because you want to return home and check your online dating profiles and see who has swiped right on your profile, accept the invitation and hang out with them. 

The conversation may open up avenues both cognitive (new ways of thinking about what you are looking for in a relationship) and social (their friendship may strengthen you, and they may even have a friend to introduce you to at some point) that will bring you closer to finding the right person.

In all ways large and small, consider how you can transcend the social-media-driven tendency to fill your life with negativity and a desire to put down others. Instead, reinforce, support and express gratitude toward the people with whom you share your limited time on this planet.

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