Here’s an interesting story that I’ve excerpted from an article, “Twitter and YouTube: Unexpected Consequences of the Self-Esteem Movement?” published in the Psychiatric Times.
To Americans over 30, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are buzzwords that lack much meaning. But to those born between 1982 and 2001—often referred to as “millennials” or “Generation Y”—they are a part of everyday life.
For the uninitiated, these Web sites are used for social networking and communication. They are also places where individuals can post pictures and news about themselves and express their opinions on everything from music to movies to politics.
Some sites, such as YouTube, allow individuals to post videos of themselves, often creating enough “buzz” to drive hundreds and even thousands of viewers; in some instances, these videos create instant media stars—such as the Obama imitator.
Although baby boomers and members of “Generation X” are signing up for these sites, it is the youth market that drives their appeal. While on the surface, they are touted as venues for networking and communication, they may, ultimately, be eroding real relationships and social contacts much as e-mail, instant messaging and “texting” have replaced cards, letters, and phone calls.
This technology may be interfering with the normal development of a generation, prolonging the “normal” narcissism of adolescence and preventing the establishment of mature relationships.
Rather than learning critical lessons about emotional sensitivity to others and reciprocity in relationships, our youth are creating alternate, solipsistic realities where they are the focus of attention. Those who do not agree are simply excluded from their inner circle.
Thus, these technological advances may be fostering a sense of isolation, alienation, and (at worst) promoting a tendency toward narcissism that may ultimately lead to an increase in violence and aggression.
What makes such sites appealing to “millennials”?
Web pages posted on social networking sites tend to be filled with photographs and writings expressing the opinions of the individual. In some cases, they are examples of exhibitionism at its most extreme.
Yet, the number of videos uploaded to YouTube and “tweets” sent on Twitter increase exponentially by the day.
The prevailing assumption is that everyone has something to say that is worthy of the attention of the masses.
This is a generation screaming for attention and recognition, seeking their promised “15 minutes of fame.” And millennials often go to great lengths to get it, posting suggestive and downright salacious photos of themselves or uploading outrageous videos.
The reward for bad behavior is, it seems, instant fame as measured by “hits,” “views,” and “followers.”
If this trend continues, fueled even more by technology, the implications are disturbing.
Narcissism, at its most malignant, fosters lack of empathy, poor impulse control, and frank aggression when insult or threat is perceived, particularly in the context of social rejection.
It is the most extreme narcissistic individuals who tend to be the most dangerous.
While it can be argued that any perceived increases are small, at best, they cannot be minimized. Small changes on a bell curve are most apparent, not at the average, but at the extremes. Therefore, even small increases over time will foster the development of greater numbers at the far end of the curve.
The rise of social networking sites is indeed a disturbing trend that may be continuing to fuel the narcissism of a generation becoming more desperate than ever to maintain their fragile self-esteem. By investing more and more time and energy in a virtual world where they can maintain their sense of importance and specialness, they risk even more disappointment when confronted with the harsh realities of life.
Relationships become shallower and more fleeting; self-interest exceeds the common good. The costs of narcissism, then, are paid by the society at large.
And since millennials equate their very existence with their self-image, they may react aggressively to protect it.
Anything that threatens their ability to maintain their false sense of self is considered a threat to life itself.
As such, the dangerousness of the millennial generation may yet be actualized.
My friend, Christian Psychiatrist, Todd M Clements, MD, commented about the article on the Christian Medical Association website:
The amount of time that Americans are spending on social networking Websites is overwhelming and steadily growing. More than one-third of all Internet use today is devoted to social networking on sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and My Space.
While touted as networks for relationship building they may ultimately be eroding real relationships. This technology can prolong the “normal” narcissism of adolescence, preventing the establishment of mature relationships.
These homepages are filled with empty-talk, self-absorption and even frank exhibitionism.
People rate their popularity, or stature in life, by the sheer number of followers they attract on their website. Recent studies of college students found that those who spent the most time on these networking sites scored much higher on narcissistic scales.
They also rated themselves as isolated and very lonely.
While networking Websites, like Facebook, can allow us to re-connect with old classmates, or keep up with the daily life of friends who live far off, they can also squander valuable time.
Several pastors broached this subject recently, in a meeting I attended, as they relayed their experience in counseling congregation members who have marriages on the brink due to “excessive facebooking.” In most cases it was the wife who was consumed by this from early evening until wee hours of the morning.
Our psychiatry office now receives daily calls for help from exasperated spouses or parents.
Studies at Oxford University have shown that Twitter is the perfect model of intermittent variable reward, which is the strongest addictive pattern.
Unfortunately computer screen interactions don’t build empathy, mutual gratification, or a realistic sense of self. They can bring self-gratification and pleasure, particularly at first, but in the end leave you more lonely, and isolated.
The Apostle Paul reminds in 1 Corinthians 16:3 to be on our guard—and do everything out of love.”