If baby boomers were the "Me Generation," then it's not too far-fetched to call Millennials the "Me, Me, Me Generation."
By every standard, we are all becoming more interested in extrinsic values. An increasing number of studies is showing narcissistic personality traits are on the rise.
It's not clear just how big of a problem this trend is, but everyone agrees that it's not a positive shift. The causes of these changes in self-perception are various and complex. But if there's one thing that can't be denied it's that they map almost perfectly onto equally rising trends of social media use.
Self-esteem is generally regarded as a positive and healthy trait and is sometimes confused with narcissistic behavior.
The fundamental difference between the two is that self-esteem stems from real and measurable accomplishment, while narcissism comes from a lack of it.
When people achieve tangible positive things in their lives, their self-esteem naturally rises. That's a good thing. Having high self-esteem is one of key factors in having a stable mental health.
In a narcissistic person, conversely, it's the lack of accomplishment that drives the behavior. That's exacerbated by the presence of social media. Narcissists act out fear of failing, and further, a fear of being perceived as failures.
These feelings of inadequacy start to inform people's decisions and that creates a co-dependent relationship with social media.
The Role of Social Media
In a world filtered through social media news feeds, the criteria for truth can become warped.
If a person is put into a situation where the things presented on social media easily pass the required criteria for truth, they'll be incentivized to trust those channels more and more.
This, in turn, results in a disregard for actual concrete accomplishment. After all, if what is presented on social media has a real-life impact on their lives, why should it be treated as if it doesn't?
The "offline" world becomes ever more uninteresting. And people can't be entirely blamed.
If putting stock into your social media persona has a better return on that investment, why wouldn't we all want that? Sure, there are long-term implications and complications, but most humans aren't long-term thinkers.
What's the Big Deal?
It might seem harmless or simply eccentric at first glance, but this narcissistic behavior has serious downsides.
Many negative trends in mental health can be traced to this behavior with some certainty. People, especially younger generations, are exhibiting higher rates of hyperactivity disorders.
One can easily see how the exploding rates of body dysmorphia can be linked to this as well. In a world that prizes the perfect selfie, not having one can be a source of consternation.
Addictive personality disorders are also on the rise. Many studies have shown clearly how addictive social media can be. If you've ever felt anxious when the connection goes down and you can't check the notifications and refresh the news feed, you know what we're talking about.
All this adds up to steadily climbing instances of depression in young people. For many people who want to focus on their intrinsic values, it's terribly disheartening to live in a world that disparages them for not embracing extrinsic values.
Social Media, the Perfect Connector or a Clear and Present Danger?
It's not going too far to say that social media is definitely to blame for some of the narcissistic tendencies in our modern world. Study after study has shown circumstantial links between the use of social media and the rise in narcissistic traits.
The question is what to do about it? We can't simply get rid of it. Any coherent plan must include social media as present in our lives in some capacity. Perhaps we should focus on how we can turn back the dial and use social media to deliver the benefits that it very clearly can with fewer consequences.
Pamela Wigglesworth, CSP, is an entrepreneurship and marketing consultant, international speaker and the author of three business books. A resident of Asia for over 20 years, she is the CEO of Experiential Hands-on Learning. She works with organizations across multiple industries to help them increase brand awareness, increase leads and ultimately increase sales.
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