compare the numbers of “likes’’ on our photos and statuses in order to validate our spots on the hierarchical ladder that makes up our network. If a certain selfie doesn’t reach a number of “likes’’ it is thought to be “not that special.” This obsession with constant validation from our peers in the form of “likes’’ and “retweets’’ has made users dependent on sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Instead of unifying one another, these sites may act as a tool for members to validate their popularity. In a 2008 survey published by a team of researchers at the University of Denver, 35,000 American respondents were asked if they had ever had certain symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Among people older than 65, three percent reported symptoms. Among people in their 20s, the proportion was nearly 10 percent.
Across all age groups, one in 16 Americans has experienced some symptoms of NPD. Loneliness and narcissism are intimately connected. A longitudinal study of Swedish women demonstrated a strong link between levels of narcissism in youth and levels of loneliness in old age. I believe that this rise in narcissism may be directly correlated to the rise in loneliness. The connection is fundamental. Narcissism is the flip side of loneliness and either condition is a fighting retreat from the messy reality of other people.
With the connectivity that social media brings to friends and family, people feel that it may act as a surrogate and only make up for the absence of the real thing. Author Sherry Turkle believes that this reveals how human beings function, when she claims “What Facebook has revealed about human nature is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity.’’
She insists that our online presence has nearly become more important than our presence in real life. The constant use of social media tampers with our generation’s ability to properly communicate with one another, which pushes us even further into the recesses of our social media personas. This social awkwardness will only continue with the excessive use of sites like Facebook and Twitter.
It is important to remember that Twitter and Facebook are not to blame for this surge in loneliness — we are doing it to ourselves. Social networking sites are merely vehicles to connect with one another which, if used properly, can be a healthy way to solidify and strengthen one’s own personal network.
Although ideal in theory, it is often abused. Author Stephen Marche states that “casting technology as some vague, impersonal spirit of history forcing our actions is a weak excuse.’’ He believes that before things begin to change, we must hold ourselves accountable for this social epidemic. It is up to the individual to find his or her balance between the pixelated world and the one made up of flesh and bone.