Narcissism and the Net

Jerome Strong

We are allowing our lives collectively to spiral out of control by devaluing communication and solid face- to-face relationships that are the basis of civilized society and settling instead for the artificial contact we have with people online. I was nonplussed, when, during a local Usher’s Anniversary service, the guest preacher stopped what he was saying in the pulpit to tend to a buzzing smartphone he had attached to his hip. That bothered me even more than when, at another service, I saw people in the choir texting – or when preaching from the pulpit myself, I saw people in the congregation texting with a huge grin on their faces because whatever it was that was distracting them from the work of the people was quite entertain- ing. Whatever happened to “We would see Jesus?”

There are those on our highways who have transitioned into eternity while trying to convey a text message – taking with them several other unsuspecting motorists because of the horribly fatal automobile accidents their selfish negligence has caused. You may remember the reported images of the woman who, while walking in a mall, fell into a fountain while texting. I read recently that too much time on Facebook is the cause for extreme tardiness in the workplace. There is even a study now of people who have withdrawals – Facebook Syndrome – from not having access to social media.

These are all indicators that we have gone too far with the convenience of social networking and our trusty electronic devices. Yet I am almost sure that if the average user of social media were polled, the consensus would be satisfaction. I say satisfaction because social media offer people the opportunity to be as narcissistic as they have ever imagined. They are able to choose the best of their photos, which paint them in a light that others are bound to envy; the trip to Prague, the opera, the theatre, the new car, roses delivered at work by the best lover ever, and the winning ticket at the races. Social media have given us the means by which we can wear our best masks while eschewing the parts of our personality that need the most work. Yet the parts of us that push us towards such media narcissism and real-person isolation are the parts that need our attention. So much social media now drown out the noise the squeaky wheels make, the wheels we used to hear. 

Jerome Strong lives in Oakland, CA, where he teaches religion and takes classes in art.