narcissism is not new

And now there is Google plus

I have to admit I really wanted an invitation to this new service (thanks, Chris), mostly because of group video chat, the “hang out.”

There are commercial services out there, but the democratization of video chatting opens up all sorts of opportunities for things I do or am interested in— teaching, attending meetings, and even, well, hanging out.

But it is, of course, one more thing. Facebook, Twitter, email, shortmail, Klout.

It is also one more danger.

Every technology brings us more opportunity and more temptation. And the temptation here, as in most social media, is “to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Romans 12:3).” In fact, if you Tweet this, or “like” this, or share this on Facebook, you will improve my Klout score. Isn’t that cool?

From AJ Kohn's google+ feed

Maybe not.

Particular vices can be encouraged by particular innovations,“ wrote Ross Douthat, an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times recently. His essay was prompted by the Anthony Weiner controversy but he gets to the heart of the matter: “The rituals of social media, it seems, make status-seekers and exhibitionists of us all.”

Just imagine Weiner with a circle of “friends” hanging out on live, real-time video chat. Something like that is already happening I’m sure.

But Douthat writes:

In the sad case of Representative Anthony Weiner’s virtual adultery, the Internet era’s defining vice has been thrown into sharp relief. It isn’t lust or smut or infidelity, though online life encourages all three. It’s a desperate, adolescent narcissism.

Douthat believes this “adolescent narcissism” is fueled and encouraged by the internet, but I prefer to believe it is simply enabled. And youth is not the issue, as Douthat himself points out:

Facebook and Twitter did not forge the culture of narcissism. But they serve as a hall of mirrors in which it flourishes as never before — a “vast virtual gallery,” as Rosen has written, whose self-portraits mainly testify to “the timeless human desire for attention.”

This timeless human desire goes back all the way to Adam and Eve who wanted to become gods, to have a glory all their own. This is the root of all human sin.

Technology is not the problem, and fear is not the solution. But human nature is a problem. It is the problem.

Many believe collecting friends and marketing ourselves is a necessary evil in today’s culture. But it is merely an evil, as long as we are depending on others to validate us at the expense of character and service.

The Christian response, of course, is to root our identity in Christ. We are to be Christ-like.

But what does that look like in the context of social media? How do we speak the truth in love instead of hoping others will love us when we obscure the truth? Where do our interactions point? How do we minister to others? What purpose is served beyond ourselves?

We can “hang out” and talk about this on Google Plus, of course. But not if the elderly widow across the street needs her lawn mowed. Or if our child needs us to read a book to them. Each new innovation becomes one more thing to balance against the larger responsibility to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

This is not the same thing as loving ourselves and loving it when our neighbors love us too.

It’s not the same thing at all.

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

One Response to “narcissism is not new”

  1. I agree that it is enabled to a greater degree. Forgive my generalities, but youth are brain damaged until the age of about 20 or 23 when they start understanding that parents are all that dumb and there are consequences to actions. It would seem that some are never healed from their brain damage, and others are just merely slow to mature which causes otherwise “normal” people to act lewdly or to take outrageous risks.

    The online ego may or may not be the real person which gives a new dimension to narcissism that is “I can do anything and get away with it”.

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