At the end of last year, Time magazine anointed their Person of the Year. Surprisingly, it was you (or us, or me, or whatever). In essence, the Social Web was Person of the Year. The collective community that is sharing ideas, photos, videos, thoughts, writings and such. It’s a bold and intriguing choice.
There’s an uglier side to this however. An ideal view of the Social Web has us thinking and collaborating together. A less than ideal view casts us as celebrities that feed on the attention and validation of being seen, read or heard. The Last Psychiatrist (a fascinating blog, by the way) said it best:
Being on YouTube, having a blog, having an iPod, being on MySpace– all of these things are self-validating, they allow that illusion that is so important to narcissists: that we are the main characters in a movie. Not that we’re the best, or the good guys, but the main characters. That everyone around us is supporting cast; the funny friend, the crazy ex, the neurotic mother, the egotistical date, etc. That makes reminders of our insignificance even more infuriating.
Youtube, Myspace, Flickr and blogging, they are, in many ways, a massive infrastructure that breeds and feeds an unhealthy level of narcissism. The result is an unquenching desire to be the lead in our own film, the star of our own show. The problem with promising narcissism is that, for some, the notion of not being recognized and acknowledged is nearly unbearable. It’s a slippery slope.
During his killing rampage in Virginia Tech, Cho Seung-Hui found the time ship a multimedia package to NBC. It’s a disturbing collection of writings, photos and videos that look more like a sliced-up movie trailer than a manifesto of some twisted ideology. It is the modern day Zodiac letters. Except this time, it isn’t an article in a local newspaper. It’s an all-out media blitz.
Cho knew full well where his media package would end up. This was his movie. Everyone else was an actor. With a bit of work, you could take any one of his photos and turn them into a movie poster. His desire to be seen, to be the star, spiraled to an extreme.
I’ll close with another, frighteningly prophetic quote from the same Last Psychiatrist post cited above:
If society chooses to make narcissism the default, it’s going to have to deal with society-wide narcissistic injuries – when we suddenly realize that it isn’t solely our movie and we’re really not the main character. And no one wants to see this stupid movie anyway. This inevitably leads to violence[…]