Narcissism, Exhibitionism? For Whom Do We Create?

By Jason Menard

Would Narcissus tweet?

The answer is clearly no (we’ll get to that at the bottom), but the question is relevant when we look at our motivations for using social media.

Sure, there are those who choose to stay on the periphery of social media. They may check their Facebook accounts once in a blue moon, or watch the odd YouTube video. However, others of us are more involved in it – we actively update our Facebook profiles, Tweet regularly, post blogs, and share content across any number of platforms.

From in-the-moment commentary of our lives to more elaborate essay-esque writings, we are all content creators, to varying degrees. And there are those who are quick to say that this behaviour is evidence of increased societal narcissism. I don’t agree. It’s not that we’re more inclined, as a society, to share ourselves with the world – it’s just that we’re able to do so much more easily.

Social media has allowed us an incredible opportunity to share ourselves to the world. In fact, I came upon this narcissism statement not as an active participant in the conversation, but rather as a voyeur. I saw it in the comments to a Facebook note posted by a writer friend of mine who was exploring her motivations behind publishing personal updates. How much is too much? How do you want your words to represent you?, she asked in essence.

To which one must add the question that we all have as writers: does anyone care? For whom are we writing? So is this narcissistic or are we simply expressing ourselves to the masses in a completely inoffensive way?

I once had the honour of having lunch with Gwynne Dyer, the globe-trotting journalist/writer. This was almost 20 years ago and we were just starting to dabble in the Internet at The Gazette, where I was editor-in-chief. I commented that Internet message boards and chat rooms seemed to be breeding more conspiracy theorists than ever before. Dyer replied, “No, they’ve always been there in that number. Now they just have a forum for their thought.”

In many ways, creating content and sharing it on social media networks is the opposite of narcissism. We are, in fact, indulging our exhibitionist nature. We have something to say or show – and now we have the means.

You see it every time technology becomes more accessible to the masses, especially when it comes to sharing of ourselves. We are not a society that’s descended into a writing hedonistic mass. Instead, there are a lot of people out there who, thanks to the advent of digital media, more affordable cameras, and simple, accessible publishing tools, can now revel in their exhibitionist tendencies. Those tendencies were always there, but before it was too cost-prohibitive and difficult to film yourself. Now, a few clicks later and you’re exposed to the world.

The same goes for social media. People have long had something to say, but now they can actually share their thoughts with the masses. Before publishing a blog required technical know-how and the ability to code; now having a half-decent-looking forum from which to share your thoughts on-line takes only minutes – and it can be free!

You see it with animators, writers, artists, playwrights, novelists and short-story writers, journalists, and columnists – the need to create is there, and now you can post your work to the world.

Those complaining of being overwhelmed by others’ “vanity” are missing the point. Like people who advocate V-chips in TV and banning quote-unquote questionable material, they’re not putting the onus where it should be — on the consumer.

Facebook updates, Tweets, Tumblr posts, and blog entries offer the best of all worlds: one can express themselves to their heart’s content; and the community can embrace or ignore those posts as they see fit.

Ultimately the power’s in your own hands. If someone’s posting too much, rambling on about topics in which you’re not interested, or has offended you, it’s easy to de-friend someone of Facebook, or stop following them on Twitter or Tumblr. You chose to follow them, you can choose to stop. That’s it, that’s all. A click of the mouse and you are in active control of the content to which you’re subjected.

Oh, and Narcissus? He wouldn’t Tweet; he’d be captivated by the reflection of the screen. Demosthenes, though, he’d be all over it.

1 thought on “Narcissism, Exhibitionism? For Whom Do We Create?

  1. rachelbliss

    You are very right in that social media has facilitated exhibitionist tendencies and more so, people now have an easy way to communicate the message that they always wanted to voice. I especially like the Narcissus reference at the end :). Great article!


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