facebook: not your father’s narcissism
A study showed, apparently, that people who tag themselves in a lot of Facebook photos and amass a lot of friends “were more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits.” Okay, fine, but while our AP Psych class works to unravel that shocker, the post also notes a second study, which found that high Facebook use was associated with “openness”–lack of concern over privacy, comfort with information that “flows freely.”
This highlights a problem that’s simple but hard to classify as we try to understand social media: Our paradigms haven’t caught up with our behavior. The nuances of control that technology has given us over self-presentation and broadcast can’t be slotted neatly into a worldview in which authors and institutions do most of the talking and readers and consumers do most of the listening.
In that world, you can still sit on the sofa in your underwear and say to your family “Decent people shouldn’t see that much of Angelina Jolie’s leg!” It’s easier to draw a line between “private people” and “exhibitionists,” between viewers and voyeurs.
But social media drops us like “The Incredible Shrinking Man” into vast distances between public and private that we couldn’t see before, where a thousand gradations exist. Where an accumulation of small choices make one person a nuisance of “TMI” updates, another a trusted news aggregator for 100 colleagues, and another a retweeted photoblogger who’s one meeting away from a book deal.
The text of Tara Parker-Pope’s blog post reveals this strain against traditional categories. Narcissism, the central idea in the piece, is presented as a post-psychoanalytic, clearly-defined bogeyman whose meaning everyone can supposedly agree to. While the trait that surprised researchers is so novel that it needed quotes around it: “openness.” Some new species of self-presentation that is not exactly bragging or dissembling, neither shamelessly revealing nor prudently circumspect.
Creativity, even in the coarse form of status updates and photo posts, has done what it always does. It’s gotten out ahead of critics’ attempts to classify it.
It’s fun to pick apart traditional media as it strains (even if it’s via a blog) to compass and comprehend the dynamics of online media. Still reminds me of that scene in ‘Hair’ where the hippies break into the fancy lawn party.
But seen as a failure of classification, rather than an ignorance of changing times, the debate over Facebook’s effect on behavior looks more like the problem from Flatland: There’s a multidimensional approach to online identity that’s impossible for our flatter, Puritan/Paparazzi minds to understand.