“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.”
Does this quote refer to:
- Video games
- Facebook, YouTube or Twitter
- All of the above
- None of the above
If you answered anything other than #5, you’re incorrect.
Although the author of that quote, Lauren D. LaPorta, MD, writing in a recent issue of Psychiatric Times, suggests it is only #4. That suddenly, despite a century of significant technological advances prior to it — including the entire Industrial Revolution! — it is the Internet that’s going to irreparably harm children. By creating a nation of narcissists.
But let’s not stop there… The demonization of the Internet gets better:
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.
And how is that different than normal teenage behavior in the real world? Has the author ever heard of cliques? Have they never lost a friend as a teen due to a difference of opinion or argument over a boyfriend/girlfriend? This doesn’t sound like Internet-caused behavior — this sounds like fairly typical teenage development and growing-up.
Oh, and talking about risky behavior leads to more acting on that risky behavior, right?
Even if it is just so much empty talk, the mere proliferation of these attitudes may produce desensitization. Ultimately, desensitization may encourage the acting out of these behaviors, as we have tragically seen in the case of Columbine and, more recently, the Pennsylvania health club shooting in which the perpetrators posted messages and videos on the Internet before the events.
For support of this argument, the author cites a CNN article that discusses a study about what teens talk about on their Myspace pages. Note, the researchers did not study whether teens engaged in more risky behavior based upon what they talked about. Instead, the authors hypothesize — without any data — that teens may be encouraged to try out the behaviors based upon their talking about them. But without the data, it’s simply an opinion. But Dr. LaPorta reports it as though it were data (and without someone going to the original study, you’d never know that). Columbine is then easily equated to teens posting on their Myspace page.
And suddenly it all becomes clear… Facebook and Twitter and Youtube — they are all, you know, evil!
Here’s the core of LaPorta’s argument — that a whole generation is growing up more narcissistic than previous generations. Is this a new argument? Hasn’t every generation of parents complained of virtually the same thing (but using different examples)? But like prior arguments made against these online tools and services, there’s a set of subtle assumptions being made about the quality of online interactions:
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.[…]
By investing in virtual relationships in cyberspace rather than in the real world, they may be continuing a vicious cycle of empty praise, disingenuousness, and superficiality. The computer screen lacks the nuances of interpersonal interaction but may lead to a false belief that the human needs for love, friendship, and intimacy have been met. […]
Despite the ultimate hollowness of these relationships, the false belief that one is accepted and important to others frees the individual to pursue more egocentric needs, further driving narcissism.
I find it very interesting that Dr. LaPorta mentions “phone calls,” since my grandparents lamented the advent and widespread use of the telephone causing the downfall of modern youth (in their day), and leading to the decline of Sunday visits and more time spent talking to people face-to-face (the only social interaction they valued). Times, they do change, and some folks who are used to a specific way of interacting may find the change scary and are fearful of it. But the fear is too often irrational.
Real relationships and deep social connections are made everyday online, through social networking websites and other technologies. Sites such as Facebook grow our overall social (and professional) networks, and most people have both close relationships with strong ties and looser affiliations with less connectivity. But these are not black-and-white sites that if a person is engaging with one of them, they must inherently be engaging in lesser-quality relationships.
Tell anyone who’s ever shared their personal health or mental health story on a Facebook group (or other support group online) that they’re just engaging in superficial narcissism. Teens, especially, need others to connect to, to feel like someone understands what they’re going through and is listening. That such sites are always used to promote one’s own navel-gazing, continuing “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.” You can look at these sites much like a Rorschach inkblot test, in that whatever you want to see and find in them, you will.
But if all of this is indeed narcissism, it’s not something new shared just by teens — the fastest growing segment of Facebook users is those above age 35. If these sites promote You as the center of the universe, then they do so for all users, not just teens. This is the new narcissism, the way we now are defining new relationships and friendships. There’s been little evidence to suggest that because teens, specifically, engage and spend more time with these sites, they are — as a whole — becoming more narcissistic and less selfless than teens in the past.
Of course, narcissts are attracted to social networking websites like Facebook as well, so you have a bit of a chicken and egg problem too if you’re not careful in your analysis.
Sadly, the Psychiatric Times website doesn’t allow for comments, so feel free to read the article and come back here for the discussion.
Read the full article: Twitter and YouTube: Unexpected Consequences of the Self-Esteem Movement?
The author sort of undermines his/her own argument by mentioning Columbine as an example. That happened in 1999, before the advent of sites like Facebook or MySpace. In fact, 10 years ago many Americans (including teens) had limited or no access to the Internet anyway (for example, according to the data available from that time only 40% of people over the age of 16 had accessed the Internet in 1999 and the numbers are much lower for people younger than that). So if some sort of “desensitization” was to blame for that tragedy then the desensitizing took place in a form other than the Internet.
For someone who’s livelihood, to some degree at least, is dependent on the medium being criticized here, not the most unbiased and objective criticism being leveled, eh, Dr Grohol?
If your statement, “real relationships and deep social connections are made everyday online, then I am glad to be in my reality, thank you! I’d rather have few but meaningful relationships built on observing the deeds and words go congruently, and be able to note non verbal cues and other ‘in your face’ experiences, than put my faith on words and pictures on a screen. And, I agreee with the author’s point about narcissism, although I would rather call it general decreased sensitivity to feelings and space of others by this generation that began in the mid to late 1980’s. This medium reinforces a quick fix mentality, and I defy someone who is unbiased and objective about the role of the internet and other ‘screen’ interactions to argue effectively otherwise.
But, I do appreciate the post, and the opportunity to dialogue and debate, by those who are respectful and responsible.
skillsnotpills, board cert psych MD
Paul – Agreed. It was reaching for straws and it would’ve never passed muster in a peer-reviewed journal. Yet in an editorial, the standards are a little more lax.
skillsnotpills – I sometimes believe that unless I was a sheep herder in the northern Scotland highlands, there is virtually nothing I could do that someone wouldn’t call into question my “biases.” But honestly, what does that have to do with the validity of someone else’s argument? Really.
Read your reply, and I have no idea how to respond to dismissing bias and objectivity in criticizing an opinion or evaluation. You can argue that everyone has a slant, but if you want to be accepted as a valid critique or dissenter, it would be nice to not show an overt benefit/profit/agenda in refuting the issue. I was going to write in my prior post how your response would be like my arguing with someone who wrote a study claiming psychiatry was detrimental to the public, but how could I be fully accepted in the debate when it is my livelihood at stake should the study be given sizeable validity. It would be a stronger argument if someone would speak out who was not directly involved in the matter at hand, like other doctors outside psychiatry, academics outside the field, or people who have benefitted from treatment, although that would diminish the latter, wouldn’t it?
Personally, I would have chosen a penquin observer in Antartica to find an absurd exception to illustrate being unbiased, but I guess your example is equivalent. Appreciate the reply nonetheless, have a nice evening and rest of the week.
My livelihood has never been connected to the rise and fall of Myspace, Friendster, Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking site. I’ve been making a living long before any of those sites came on the scene, and I imagine I will still be around long after those sites were replaced by the Next New New Thing.
I do very much enjoy pointing out the “Sky is Falling” mentality from people who are apparently not students of history. All of this has come before. All of this will come again. To have the audacity to think that no other generation has experienced *these* specific feelings that teens are hopelessly “lost” because of technology is to not go back and study the past century of family and sociological development of the family unit (and its changes over time).
I don’t begrudge the fact that not everyone can study such things, but I wish people would spend a little time learning about history before suggesting that *this* particular moment in history is completely unlike any other. History is a great teacher and teaches me — all the time — how none of this is really new.
So sure, make an argument against online social networking. But don’t cite a CNN news article, that cites a study, that doesn’t at all support your point with actual data.
This post does bring a lot of evolutionary and conventional business logic together. The fact that the future/younger generations tend to be more mature lets them understand the need for networking, however, the online systems create a chaos by not letting them understand how to prioritize between the offline networking skills and the online networking (which is more of a pass time activity these days). One, in that sense and in lot many dimensions this post bears significance.
However, I would like to see some posts on how to change such an addictive online behavior, rather than those posts which keep projecting the problems, if like never with more scientific validity.
I completely agree with the quote. It sort of an inconvenient truth. Even though internet is blessing in some ways, this is sure degrading.
Could you please post my comment I submitted yesterday? It was thoughtful-I put some time into it but it never got posted. Thank you.
WT, this happens a lot on this site that comments disappear. About half of the time, or perhaps more than that, the comment will show up later, sometimes not until the next day. I know it’s frustrating! Kat
Hello, i am angel_F, an artificial intelligence son od Derrick de Kerckhove and the Biodoll.
I am part of an online experiment that has been going on for two years, on the possibilities of digital media and the possibility to create relationships using social networks.
Together with my dad I attended the Internet Governance Forum of the United Nations in Rio de Janeiro, to declare a statement on digital rights, even for digital beings like me.
We are conducting further experiments, focused on social networks, in which people will be able to finally own their data and protect their identities, while sharing knowledge and information.
please read about it on Wikipedia
and visit my generative blog
or search for me on Facebook (I am Angel_F de Kerckhove)
I have to agree with the Dr. on this one. Teens always have and always will be drawn to technology like flies to the light. Once upon a time it was the telephone, in recent history it was the cellphone soon leading to text messaging. Myspace, Twitter, and Facebook just happen to be the new cellphone that every teenager wants. I wasn’t allowed the pleasure of having a cellphone when I was in high school (my parents couldn’t afford it) which made me a ‘lesser’ being.
I have a myyearbook page, which is similar to myspace (which I also have) and have to say that the majority of the people on it are living life in high school all over again, no matter how old they are. I can’t count the number of forums I’ve commented on only to have my opinion shot down by some random troll solely because I refuse to put my photo up as my default picture. Which in my experience, is EXACTLY like high school was. If you couldn’t or wouldn’t measure up in the ‘looks’ department, you weren’t worth the time of anyone who was anything. And I happened to be in high school before myspace and facebook were popular.
Do I think there are more narcissists? No, but I do think that social networking sites just give them the ability to show their face even more, further feeding their ever-growing ego.
Dr. LaPorta responded to my criticisms here:
I encourage you to read the entire response and then come back here to read my rebuttal.
First, whether narcissism is rising as a general societal trend is very much an area of contention and not at all an established fact. I’m well aware of the Twenge and colleagues’ studies, and I’m also well aware of the weaknesses of their studies. They are hardly the last word on the subject.
Whether the tools the Internet provides is a result of society or vice-a-versa is largely besides the point. What I was primarily objecting to was the demonization of technology and tools with broad characterizations such as “the ultimate hollowness of these relationships” and “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.”
Perhaps, as an alternative explanation, the rise of social networking sites is an empowering trend that is continuing to fuel people’s ability to keep in touch with more people in ways they couldn’t do so 30 years ago, enriching people’s lives in ways we also couldn’t imagine 30 years ago. Perhaps it is symptomatic of more connected individuals who are leveraging technology to enhance and strengthen friendship bonds (with their actual friends) and improve communication with others (such as co-workers).
To suggest that people who use social networking sites or online communities or email do not communicate “real feelings” (as you imply in your last paragraph) is a disrespectful slap in the face to the millions of ordinary people who use these technologies every day to do just that. People have feelings. How they choose to communicate them does not lessen the intensity or validity of those feelings. If my mom calls me on the phone to share in the grief over the loss of a shared friend, are her feelings somehow less valid or real because they were not shared face-to-face?
Lamenting the progression of technology over the centuries as we moved from face-to-face social calls, to the telegraph and post, to the rise of automobiles, the radio, the telephone, and television seems to be the equivalent of the people who decried the decline of horse-drawn carriages in cities as they gave way to automobiles.
You don’t have to like it (and indeed, nothing stops a person from opting out from this technology, the telephone or horseless carriages), but you do have to accept it.
People have hated changer since the dawn of time. Even the Gutenberg printing press was demonized when it was new.
I find this fascinating. I am doing a documentary on Internet addiction (more specifically Facebook) and would love to discuss this further with you Dr. Grohol. I don’t know the best way to contact you so this is attempy numero uno.
Well I think that this is a real problem all my teenagers are totaly in love with themselves saying that life is all about b**chs and money