10 October 2008

Narcissism and self-referentialism: "Generation Me"?

Quit Facebook

By being not only a writer of a blog but also a user of Facebook and MySpace (yes, I have at least three online personas) I am evidently one of the very people Carmen Joy King describes in her essay "Quit Facebook". There, I've said it, I'm out - I use the Internet a lot, probably excessively.

King makes some brilliant points about Facebook and the like throughout her essay. She cleverly sums up the default self-pity which we all feel, and which is inevitably tied up with narcissism and a notion of our importance in the grand scheme: "Perhaps [online self-promotion is] merely one component of the pursuit to alleviate some of the blackness encountered in the existential vacuum of modern life."

I find this idea supremely interesting. The "existential vacuum" of which she speaks is, to a certain extent, self-imposed, in that we want our era to be defined by something, yet there is nothing concrete by which to define it, as there perhaps was in generations past, e.g., and I say this loosely, the World Wars. Thus, we grasp the broadest and grandest definition of our generation possible (it's "blackness", it's hopelessness, perhaps) and we believe it, we really do.

The consequence of this real belief in our generation's "blackness", perhaps our essential emptiness, is a self-assigned grandiosity and importance as a defining generation (just like those before us). King calls it "Generation Me", the "express yourself"/"just be yourself" generation. Thus, this essentially psychological situation becomes a tangible and recognisable phenomenon, manifest immeasurably by our multiple personalities both online and in the "real" world. Our desire to attain meaning and relevance in a world sorely lacking in both has paradoxically created an even more meaningless and irrelevant formula for defining our era or generation.

I really don't believe that, in times past, the majority of people thought of themselves in terms of the big picture - this was reserved for famed actors, politicians, scientists, and, I suppose, writers. Nowadays, everyone is a big picture. We are all part of the biggest picture the world has seen: the Internet. I daresay the most thorough and encompassing portrait ever taken. I wonder what people 500 years from now will think of us upon viewing/experiencing this portrait? Assuming there are still humans in 500 years, which I think is unlikely, of course, given my narcissism and real belief that no subsequent generation could possibly be more pertinent, more troubled, more challenged than ours. The world is ending, after all, no?

Returning to King's thesis, it is this self-pity, this narcissistic and "self-reference" society, which leads us to spend hours in front of our Macs (bien sur) doing I don't know what exactly. What are we searching for? What are we waiting for? The love of our lives to vodcast themselves out of the YouTube? The answer to all our problems to pop up on Messenger? Physical encounters to reveal themselves in a Facebook poke?

As King touches on in her essay, I feel that our online personalities are more important to us than they ever will be to a second party, defeating their supposed purpose of informing the world of our existence and, more importantly, the purpose of our existence. Ironically, online realities predominantly inform their creator; they remind us, "I'm female, I'm single, I like writing, I am an 'arty' type, I like books and films and photography", etc. And they do all this through an array of media - words, photographs, films, drawings - each one combined consciously and sub-consciously to form a virtual picture of our soul. Could the Internet be the visual representation of one's soul? Is that the direction we are going? Are we already there?

King says, "For the vast majority of people experiencing the fragmented, fast-paced modern world of 2008, a Sunday pause at the end of a hectic week may cause them to become all too aware of the lack of content in their lives. So we update our online profiles and tell ourselves that we are reaching out." I challenge anyone to say they have never felt this, and then I ask the question again: Could the Internet be the visual representation of one's soul?

5 Comments:

Blogger Valentine said...

Ive never nodded so much while reading a blogpost. Nodded upon reading the title but stopped right before you asked that last lingering question..

"Could the Internet be the visual representation of one's soul?"

Im leaning towards a yes.. :-)

10 October, 2008 17:38  
Anonymous Normie said...

Usou. But sure, why not? Though it proves some people to have very ugly souls ;)
(does anyone else find it humorous that when commenting on this you can leave a link to your website...?)

11 October, 2008 08:12  
Blogger Valentine said...

ha.. the irony, normie. :-)

thanks for the comment, ms. eleanor!

12 October, 2008 00:01  
Blogger molly said...

what an interesting article...you and the author both make a lot of excellent points
i dont know if i could quit facebook at this point, but i don't know if i'll have it forever

15 October, 2008 21:57  
Blogger jehan said...

I think 'soul' is perhaps too strong. As a means of self-expression, the internet is becoming more and more important as well as being genuinely innovative. That much is undeniable.

King places so much value on the accuracy of her 'carefully built-up virtual image' that she fails to realise that there are so many characteristics about a person that are impossible to convey through an online profile. It offers an insight, nothing more, and to see it as more is foolish.

I somehow managed to set up an RSS feed thing to my Facebook notifications so I can check if something has actually 'happened' to me. The design of the site with incessant news feeds lead people to procrastination.

26 October, 2008 15:11  

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