A culture of self[ie] obsession

By Kate Wakerley

How often do you check your Facebook or Twitter account? After you update your status, send a tweet or post a photo, do you check back to see how many people ‘like’ it? Do you feel a sense of pride when you are retweeted Does it inflate your ego when you see how many ‘likes’ you get?

I’ll admit it, I get a boost of self-esteem based on how many likes I get on Facebook, or when my posts get shared on social media. Even researchers have confirmed that our desire to be ‘liked’ on social media is a universal phenomenon. All of us want to feel worthy of acceptance, love and belonging. In today’s connected world, the likes we get on Facebook can satisfy this desire on some level.

We are living in an age of self-obsession. Wherever you look, you can see a fascination with self-interest, self- image, self-development, self-expression, self-help and self-love.

Raving bridezillas, the endless amount of selfies on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, delusional performances on reality television shows—we live in a culture that’s ‘all about me’.

In this age where social media is king, the number of ways we can validate our own ordinary lives is almost endless. Showing off has never been easier, and never more celebrated.

In many ways it’s no surprise that the Oxford English Dictionary chose ‘selfie’ as its word of the year in 2013. On its blog, Oxford Dictionaries has claimed that the winner was a unanimous choice. Selfie is a term that has become synonymous with social media.

A poll by smartphone manufacturer Samsung revealed that 30 per cent of all photos taken by people aged between 18 and 44 are selfies, with more than half of those ending up on Facebook. Selfies have become much more than just a fleeting trend, with ordinary users, celebrities and politicians jumping on the bandwagon. The art of the selfie is here to stay.

It is however worth considering the psychology behind this ego-centric culture in social media. With a number of ways to seek validation thanks to technology, are we truly a self- obsessed bunch? Or is this simply another way to connect and share our life with our friends and family? Or are you a digital narcissist?

‘By any historical standards, our society is marked by a radical individualism obsessed with the self,’ Anne Manne wrote in an essay in The Monthly. ‘It is a very particular self. It is a self on display, measured by externals and appearance, in pursuit of success and material prosperity more than care for others, of popularity and notice more than respect.’

In 2013, a study from the University of Michigan found that social media both reflects and amplifies a growing level of narcissism in our culture. The study shows that narcissistic students and adults use social media in differing ways to boost their egos and control others’ perception of them.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook, are providing users with an outlet by enabling users to broadcast their lives and for gaining attention from others. We are now more connected than we have ever been, but on the flipside, we are also less interested in others, apart from our need to gain their feedback and acceptance.

Social media has made it easier to be narcissistic. The narcissist’s sense of self is largely reliant on the feedback and validation of other people. Social media can be for narcissists what crack is for addicts because it provides an endless means of gaining positive feedback. Digital narcissists collect evidence which proves how successful they have become, such as their house, car, likes and the number of Twitter followers they have.

It must be said that a healthy sense of self is by no means a bad thing. In fact, narcissism in moderation can be valuable. A study of US presidents found that those who showed signs of narcissism such as Bill Clinton, John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon were bound for greatness. Although studies have shown that there is a connection between social media and self-obsession, there is also a connection between being active on Facebook and Twitter and higher levels of self-esteem.

Take a moment to consider how you are using social media. Are your status updates about connecting with others and being positive? How often do you post selfies? Are you simply looking for an ego boost? Reflecting on the way you are using social media can go a long way to separating digital narcissism from a healthy dose of self-esteem.

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