The world spends about 700 billion minutes on Facebook each month, and researchers are curious what people are doing while they are logged on to the popular social networking site. Surprisingly, studies reveal a large amount of time on Facebook is not spent connecting with others, cyber-stalking or playing Farmville – but on self-promotion through carefully crafted profile pages. And as its own special kind of narcissism, it’s generating a lot of buzz in the psychology community.
It’s no surprise that narcissism is alive and well on Facebook. Scrolling through your news feed usually reveals at least one shameless self-promoter. The question that is sparking debate amongst researchers is which came first? Does Facebook create narcissists or do existing narcissists simply use Facebook as an outlet. The few studies conducted thus far show no clear indication of what is causing these increasing displays of self-love. Currently, the most comprehensive research available is a study done by York University. The major findings were that the participants with narcissistic tendencies checked their Facebook accounts more frequently and stayed there longer. They also found that while logged on the narcissists spend more time on their own profile rather than their friends.
Those who believe that Facebook breeds a more narcissistic society believe that the results of the York study indicate Facebook does indeed create narcissists. Without Facebook a modern narcissist would have no way to express him or herself. Since Facebook exists, we are surrounded by a culture of narcissism. The constant exposure to such behavior makes it appear normal. Over time an increasing number of Facebook users begin to adopt these tendencies. Some psychologists believe this will be exaggerated in current youth, since they will grow up on Facebook for most of their lives. The act of simply creating a Facebook profile and uploading a snapshot could be considered self-interested behavior. Thus, they believe that from the moment you join Facebook you are agreeing to partake in some amount of narcissistic behavior.
On the other hand, there are many who believe that Facebook is just a tool adopted by existing narcissists. They think that the idea of Facebook creating narcissism is ridiculous. Narcissists have deep rooted psychological issues, it is unlikely that the social networking website would have that profound of an impact on peoples lives. They also refute claims that it will affect children growing up on Facebook. A child must be 13 before Facebook allows them to stet up a profile. Since most of a child’s personality is developed by age 7, it is impossible for Facebook to impact their early childhood development. Instead, these psychologists blame the current rise in narcissism on the self-esteem movement in schools and how our generation was raised to feel a sense of entitlement.
What many fear may be increased self-interest could actually be a result of social media technology’s affects on people’s perceptions of themselves. In Orality and Literacy, theorist Walter Ong discusses how the invention of writing changed human consciousness. Ong said that that people who didn’t know how to write had a very difficult time describing him or herself. The onset of writing allowed us to step back, observe and inspect ourselves on paper. Similarly, some believe that social media is like a new form of writing. Instead of writing and describing yourself, social media asks you to look at yourself and describe it to the world. Some view this as simply part of the technology that will continue to shape our society. People are not becoming more narcissistic; the new technology simply allows them to express their preexisting feelings in a new way.
Although the experts can’t seem to agree if Facebook is creating more narcissists, they do agree that there are ways to identify the existing narcissists on your friend list. Most narcissists present an image of their life that is disconnected from reality. They will often post many pictures in order to present the public with an idealized image of themselves. These pictures are often edited to make themselves appear more attractive. In real life narcissists rarely form long lasting relationships with people. This also happens in their online lives. Most narcissists will have tons of friends but they will rarely have lasting interactions with one person. Since they don’t usually consider other people’s feelings it is not uncommon for narcissists to create conflicts or “call people out” on Facebook. Other signs of narcissism are an in-depth “About me” section and constant status updates. A narcissist believes that their lives are truly interesting to other people. This explains the play-by-play status updates that irritate most typical Facebook users.
The students I interviewed all reported that they could easily recognize people that were narcissists on their news feed. Chrissy, a third year student commented that she has “a few people who are constantly posting about how awesome their lives are.” Another student, Kaili, noted that “There are always girls who have super edited profile pictures, they don’t look like that in real life.” One thing I found interesting was that no one wanted to admit to having any narcissistic tendencies of his or her own. Every student I asked instantly responded “No!” when asked if they ever participated in Facebook narcissism. One student even said, “I prefer to creep my friends, not talk about myself.” Whether or not cyber-stalking is better than narcissism is a whole other debate.
So how do these new research findings relate to the information hierarchy? Facebook, along with most other social networking sites, are not typically places where wisdom is formed. Finding out where people spend their time while on Facebook is important when trying to figure out how Facebook could be used to generate knowledge and wisdom. All arguments aside, the studies have shown that people are spending more time on their own profiles. This behavior will significantly decrease the amount of knowledge and wisdom that are formed. It ultimately defeats the purpose of a social network. User’s that are focused on their own profiles will become trapped at the data or information level. They will keep providing date about themselves without generating any new information. The amount of dialogue and new data taken-in will significantly decrease with this behavior since there will be less interaction with other people. Without at least interacting and getting information from others, creating knowledge and wisdom while online will be impossible for Facebook users.
If current trends continue it appears that Facebook and other social networking sites won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Hopefully, these studies and the debates that continue to follow them will get people to inspect how they spend their time on Facebook. If Facebook isn’t truly making people narcissists then hopefully they will be more observant of their time spent online and can break any bad habits they begin to notice. On the other hand, if Facebook creating more narcissists many people will be thrilled that universities are conducting studies about them.