In an era of digital transition, human beings increasingly become dependent on digital media and contemporary forms of communication. Today, modern communication and information-sharing methods have become vital in our lives. It is the way we communicate, the way we maintain contact with people and a form of interaction in a digital environment. In a time characterised by rapid digital transformation, people increasingly depend on these digital social exchanges. There’s no doubt that this form of interaction between people is highly convenient and is an easy way of maintaining a network with family and friends within the reach of our fingertips.
However, we are ignoring the negative traits of such platforms and normalising the idea of living in a “self-obsessed era”; narcissism is on the rise and digital media has become a powerful tool to empower an attention-fame-craving society. (Harvard BR, 2023)
Is narcissism a choice or a trend?
The exact definition of narcissism may prove challenging to pin down as there could be different levels of narcissism and many forms of manifesting it. Still, generally speaking, we refer to a personality trait that can potentially be diagnosed. It is a type of personality and way of living characterised merely by excessive levels of entitlement, self-esteem and an inflated, exaggerated self-perception, generally living under an umbrella of self-interest, lack of empathy and disregard for the wellbeing of others.
A narcissist would generally care more about his self-image and social status than the feelings, emotions and general well-being of others, opting for an egoist, self-centred way of living completely void of empathy. A narcissist feels more powerful, relevant and important than he is; the reality? He is just one human being out of the 8.1 billion inhabitants of our world. (World Population Review, 2023)
There is a light side in the darkness of these types of personalities; studies have shown that Individuals with high levels of narcissism are regularly found at the top of the leadership and corporate pyramid, with higher levels of financial attainment. No doubt, this disdain for the well-being of others explains how this type of personality can also lead to a weak form of governance and administrative organisation. Nevertheless, high charismatic levels and high confidence and self-esteem can often lead these individuals to high positions on the corporate ladder.
Is this personality type a trend? A choice? Why is it often said that narcissism levels are on the rise, and how, in a modern, digital society, do these negative personality traits manifest themselves? Has social media normalised living in a self-obsessed era and encouraged higher levels of narcissistic behaviours in upcoming generations? While the origins of narcissism in individuals are uncertain, as it may stem from a combination of personal situations, childhood experiences, and other relevant psychological factors, (some argue that it is inherited), today, technology has been a major contributor to creating a narcissistic self-obsessed society. Yes, perhaps it has become a trend in younger generations, a product of an era of digital social dynamics through technology.
Gen Z: A generation of digital narcissism
One of the main factors by which society has become increasingly narcissistic through digital media is the form of excessive exhibitionism to achieve social status or to maintain an aspirational standard, trying to transmit an inflated and exharbited self-image. Technology and the digital exchange of information through social media have normalised in younger generations’ narcissistic behaviours by “legitimising public displays of self-promotion, entitlement, and self-centeredness.” (T.C Premuzic, 2023)
“In a real-world office, if you walk around telling everybody how great you are, ignoring what they say, and sharing everything you do with others (including what your cat had for breakfast), you’d be deemed obnoxious as a colleague. But in the digital world, this will make you an influencer.”(T.C Premuzic, 2023)
The increasing dependence on social media has not only built individuals with higher levels of material and superficial exhibitionism but has also turned younger generations dependent on digital social validation. The more you show off to meet social standards, the more likely your TikTok video will go viral, or the number of likes on your Instagram post will be higher. This shows the effective and well-thought design of digital media, where through validation, individuals become addicted to attention through a feedback loop, constantly feeding the ego, self-esteem and self-centeredness of the narcissistic-attention-seeking individual.
Notwithstanding, the satisfaction of a social media post is temporary. After a few minutes of fame, Individuals tend to be vulnerable again and seek validation, reinforcing the loop of acceptance and social status and making the average human being far more selfish and self-centred today than in previous generations.
One main problem is how social media algorithms are designed, encouraging fame-hungry narcissists to match socially inflated standards to become viral. New forms of communication and online social platforms like TikTok have made an enormous increase in these personality trends, where clips tend to go viral without really creating a social impact, knowledge or anything positive; it’s all about matching an aspirational social standard and portraying an inflated self-image, to target a general public seeking to be at that social status level or possess certain material things to belong in a material based social structure.
So then, there is also a strong relationship with capitalist consumption patterns, where individuals seek to match a social aspirational standard through the possession of material things, and social media is a way of manifesting the personality trait and showing off material possessions in a digital network society.
The Paradox of Narcissism
We have to understand the long-term harm this behaviour causes us psychologically. Digital media satisfaction and overall narcissistic tendencies cause a boost in self-confidence and self-esteem. In the long run, it can turn us into constant validation-seeking individuals, driving more insecurities than confidence. The result? Trying to overcome insecurities with social approval through means such as social media. The bright side? These types of personality tendencies can be treated and surpassed. However, shifting from narcissism to humility is not an easy process, generally, because narcissistic individuals neglect change, try to justify their negative personality traits, and minimise other’s opinions, even when diagnosed or aware of their inflated self-perspective, there is no willingness to listen and understand.
Getting out of the narcissistic trap can be difficult. One way to overcome these personality tendencies is by exercising humility daily (T.C Premuzic, 2023), being a citizen who positively impacts society and the environment and being concerned with the challenges and issues we face in modern societies. A careless individual tends to be self-centred, so empathy, gratitude and humility are crucial and will ultimately make you stand out in a self-centred, narcissistic society.
Social media will inevitably continue to be one of the main reasons for an increase in narcissistic individuals in our society, with influencers setting the example of how gaining fame and attention through self-public portrayal increases the desire of younger generations to gain attention through this form of narcissistic manifestation, increasing the level of self-obsessed individuals.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean that all individuals, users of social media, have these types of personality traits or are likely to develop them; neither are all social media users under a desire for self-portrayal. However, be aware that technology is a powerful tool that can encourage us to fall into this narcissistic loophole, and getting out of there might not be as easy as it looks.