Is Facebook Turning Us into Narcissists?

The moral impact of Facebook on our characters is up to us.

Posted Oct 06, 2010

I recently received some good news related to my work as a professional philosopher, and after calling my wife to tell her about it one of my first impulses was to share it on Facebook. Now this is what it is supposed to be about, right? After all, "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life"--but it still bothers me that I had this impulse. Because of this I haven't posted the news, though I'm sure I will at some point (To satisfy my possibly narcissistic impulses? To tell my friends and Facebook friends? Just to share some good news? Some mix of all of these?)

Facebook can become a time sink at work and at home, it can lead to extra-marital affairs and divorces, and it can encourage narcissistic tendencies. Cynically, one might think that its success is predicated on our desire to have others look at us and our accomplishments as we do the same (including, apparently, what we made for dinner last night). More hopefully, Facebook's success is also predicated on the human desire to connect with others. We long for community, and when so many people lack this it makes sense that social media have been so successful.

Returning to our initial question, it seems to me that Facebook does have the tendency to encourage and in some cases exacerbate narcissistic tendencies. However, I would say those inclinations must already be present for this to occur. We can't lay all of the blame at the feet of this icon of social media, as whatever negative effects Facebook has are based on the flaws already present in our human nature. Facebook is not turning us into narcissists.

But if I'm already narcissistic, Facebook can encourage the growth of this regrettable trait. So, like many forms of technology and other aspects of our lives, the effect on us is in part dependent on us. If my intention in sharing some accomplishment or good news with others I care about is just to share some good news, then I see no harm in doing so. If my intention, even subconsciously, is to garner attention and praise for my accomplishments or the accomplishments of my children, then Facebook might be encouraging a form of narcissism by giving me an easy way to put myself on display.

The practical point, it seems to me, is not that we should abandon Facebook and other social media. Rather, we should do the hard work required to grow in unselfishness and other-centeredness so that our narcissistic and selfish tendencies are minimized. Maybe one way to begin to cultivate these traits is to congratulate others for their accomplishments. Try it the next time you're checking out your friends' status updates.

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