Ah, Jared's Java. Pleasant taste. Slight Monsterism.

Welcome to the home of my mind, where I brew my intellectual and spiritual joe. Sit back and let me pour you a cup or two. I promise not to cut you off, even after you get the caffeine jitters.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Facebook is(n't) narcissism

Someone I knew in a different life (and a good man), Matt Zrust, said a while back that Facebook is narcissism. I found the thought provoking. Is social networking (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace/Friendster {which, who the hell uses anymore}, LinkedIn) really just about us all stroking out on our keyboards into the dark hoping that someone will give a crap? Is there any hope for real meaning out of the interactions we have in these virtual spaces?

To an extent, I think he's right. There are those in virtual spaces that do nothing but promote themselves, their business or constantly spew menial things out that make a person appear petty, insecure or so self-important that you want nothing to do with them. At least, that's my natural reaction.

However, as our "meat space" lives get more and more crowded with things we must do and keep up with, turning to virtual spaces to fill the void of social interaction is a natural, and healthy, outlet. Believe it or not, those "petty" public space and social relationships that seem meaningless carry much weight in a person's life. We shop at the same stores, eat at the same places, ride the bus with the same people, etc. Imagine if all of your co-worker relationships (the ones you draw any positive benefits from, anyway) just disappeared. You lost your job, and everyone else didn't, and you can't go back to visit. Imagine, on top of that, you moved to a new neighborhood and lost the relationships you had with the wine steward and checkers at your local grocery store. Finally, imagine that you lost all the relationships you have in the place you are spiritually fed (be it a local conservative church or GLBTA support group). However, among all these changes, you can still have your closest friends (provided you have any kind of habit of visiting each others' homes) and your family. Still sad and scary, huh?

I hear the objection coming already: "Most people move plenty of times in their lives and experience these transitions. What do you say to that?" Well, I say "It really sucks making those transitions, don't it?" As a matter of fact, psychologists call stressful things such as moving and losing your job "little deaths". They carry the same toll on your psychological and emotional well-being as someone you know and value dying. Suddenly, all those little relationships add up, don't they?

I tried being off Facebook for a while a few months ago. It didn't work. I came back because there was a longing for the connection, however insignificant it may seem, that I experience here. This is where the people I know relate to one another. To abandon it is to abandon them, for better or for worse.

However, as I just pointed out, not all relationships need to progress to the point of being your best friend for them to carry a significant weight in your life.

But, what does this all mean? How do we form relationships? By sharing with each other just enough to give them an idea of what it might be like to know us deeper. It doesn't mean that we can't be transparent or that we must hide who we truly are, but it occurs on different levels depending on several factors. You share a certain amount with people who have the same rooting interest in (insert local college, semi-pro or pro sports team here), share the same religious beliefs or fandom of the same movie/book series/tv show. You and they "belong" to one another in "public space". You share other things with people to whom you belong "socially" or "in social space", such as a book club, community group, crafting group, church group, etc. You share others with people who come to your home, know your kids, have experience significant life events with you. You belong to each other in "personal space". And, then there are the precious few to whom we belong in "intimate space". Those who know us "naked", as we are. They're generally people you've shared body fluids with, such as a spouse, sibling or parent (and could also include an old war buddy {blood}).

As we progress in life, people move in and out of these spaces. Nothing is fixed. As we grow older and leave home, and certainly when we get married, our parents move somewhere from "close personal" to a space more like social. Many parents struggle to accept the transition. Once close "personal" friends become social connections and people from a public space of belonging may hit it off with you and soon become a personal relationship. It is just the way life is.

But, I digress. In this post-modern age, how do we keep in contact, stay informed and form new bonds? The answer is technology. What we do when we post our status updates is little different than bellying up to the bar at the local pub, sitting on a stump around a small community fire in a village of hunter-gatherers or walking up to a familiar stall at the local market in a small town in the middle east and saying, "Sure was a hot one today, huh?" We are reaching out and testing the waters to see whether our fellow sojourners in this life have any interest in interacting with us at that point in time (or later, as technology has allowed). We are saying "Without you, I am less", which is not wrong for us to do, since it is wired into our DNA to be a part of a community.

So, is Facebook narcissism? Life is narcissism because our mental perspective is completely chained to the inside of our skulls and our vision to the view of our eyes. How do we deal with/overcome that? By doing the best we can...and by gathering those around us who would make us more complete by showing us that there are other ideas and perspectives than our own. And Facebook is really good at that.

1 comment:

Sherrie Lord said...

What would I do without Facebook? Or my blog, where I get the chance to toss out thoughts, ideas, and happenings important to me — then hear back from others who want to join in the discussion! I especially love that, for the exchange of ideas and for the new friends I've made (Jared).

I live a lonely life, actually. I work at home, so I have no office to go to, no coworkers to chat with or sing Happy Birthday to in the break room. I have a chronic illness that makes me sort of home bound. It takes much of my time, much of my energy, so that what of myself it leaves me, I have to give to my work. So Facebook is where I go for "phone calls" and "lunch dates" with friends. I can pop in when I feel good and have the time. But I don't have to make apologies or disappoint anyone when I can't make it.

I know what a narcissist looks like; my bio father is one. I don't think I got that gene, thank God. I think I know that because I'd rather explore and learn about other people than talk about myself; I have a curious mind, and I already know about me. And I'm thankful for every one of my Facebook friends and treasure each one. As much as my health allows, I take none of them for granted.... See More

Good post, Jared! Thanks for the insight!