Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 28, 2010 8:30 PM

Confessions Of A Narcissist

How did we all become so self-involved and to what end?

Have you ever been in a place where you wind up disgusting yourself (just a little bit)? While floating through the Intertubes today, it struck me how narcissistic most of my true engagement is.

Here's what I am seeing:

  • Google News Alerts set-up for my own name, my company, my Blog, etc...
  • Twitter is run through Tweetdeck where I have alerts set-up for my own name, my company, my Blog, etc...
  • Beyond that, most of us are busy on Twitter really only connecting to those who are either sending us an @ message or a direct message.
  • Facebook. If Facebook isn't about narcissism, what is? The first thing I look for? Who's saying what about me?

Beyond that, we all do little narcissistic things like an ego search on YouTube, flickr, LinkedIn, and all of the general Search Engines. Every once in a while, I'll hop over to the Ad Age Power 150 to see how this Blog ranks. I'll do that over on Technorati as well. Let's not forget the general web analytics from the Blog, or pumping my Twitter name into Klout to see what's what.

Me, me, me, me, me... blech!

I don't like this. I can't stop this. It would only be half-funny if that was the end. In thinking about it just a little bit more, there are many other spaces, places, channels and platforms where I'm doing the old narcissistic waltz. If you think this makes me sound a little insecure, you're not alone (I think it does too). On one hand, it makes sense, as it's important to know who is saying what about you and the brands you represent. On the other hand, the true destination for most of our online endeavors really are the new media equivalent of the biblical statues that were presented as deities. These digital shrines that we create to ourselves. The photos are almost as unrealistic as our expectations that we'll get some semblance of happiness from all of these digital ego boosts that we live in.

Too bad the portals are dying.

Prior to online social networks and Social Media, we would start off our online journey at a destination or a portal (think Yahoo!, AOL, etc...). Now, the portal is a personal portal. Most people's homepage is now their Facebook or Twitter homepage.

What have we become?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Roy Atkinson
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, I agree that we're all concerned with ourselves and our image and our online influence—however we define that. I remember what it was like in school when you knew the answer, waving your hand wildly to get "called on," or trying to use just the right body language to get picked for a team (or not). We are, most of us, trying to be called on or picked for whatever it is the social universe has in store. We shine our virtual shoes and step into the crowds of individuals awaiting recognition.

    I think you touch on the big question: "Where does this end?" How many channels are too many, and will the next one be the right one to produce the desired effect. A little time will tell, we all hope. Thanks for your perceptive (as always) post.

    Reply
    • It's nice to know that I am not alone. It's also nice to be reminded that this is probably right up there at the top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (self-actualization). In the end, Cheap Trick had it right, "I want you to want me."

      Reply
  • Posted by Jim Raffel
    Mitch Joel

    Who let you look at my MacBook?

    Seriously, thanks for the food for thought. This has crossed my mind a few times recently and now you have me thinking about it. #Subconscious engage.

    I saw you tweet last night about just watching the stream and enjoying it. I was stuck on a plane last evening and for 25 minutes mostly just watched the stream. It was more fun and relaxing than responding the @messages and watching alerts.

    As always you are onto something here Mitch.

    Reply
    • Watching the streams instead of watching what the streams are saying about you is one great way to be a little less narcissistic... but there has to be more. I've often talked about the need to be more active in other people's communities or to do something within Social Media that will help others (maybe even anonymously)... I need to get on that so that I can get off of this.

      Reply
  • Posted by Mark Dykeman
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch:


    You could look at it as being narcissistic or you could look at it as savvy marketing intelligence. That's the reason why companies are into the whole social media monitoring space. Preventative reputation management and all that.

    No, I'm lying. I have the same narcissistic tendencies.

    I think Oscar Wilde said it best: "There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about."

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, going a little hard on ourselves reaching out to dc Talk or is it Johnny Cash?

    Yes we easily surrender to our egos like children, hiding under the noble idea of "personal brand management".

    Pretending to believe we are objectively observing safeguards against prevailing human frailty. Patting ourselves on the back for learning to be thick skinned, all the while our digital feedback obsession grows.

    But so what, some wisdom can't be discerned until the actors have finished the 3rd or 4th Acts. Just the nature of the world we interact with, just using what we got coming in.

    We need to keep our eye on the prize and look for new innovations that carry us farther in new unforeseen directions all the while supported by our past failures.

    Reply
    • I like to tell people I have very thin skin. It's probably thinning even more due to all of the digital narcissism I have going on.

      Reply
      • Posted by Kevin
        Mitch Joel

        Maybe the skin gets thinner when one is on the path of continuously driving a brand into a wider space in the world.

        Perhaps there is an inverse relationship wrt the sphere of influence that one acts upon.

        You are too hard on yourself.

        Leo had an epiphany by chance, no need to pile on responsibility for natural human behavior solely on your shoulders.

        Reply
  • Posted by Dan Wallace
    Mitch Joel

    Well, to be fair your blog's sidebar does read, "ABOUT MITCH: Learn more about digital marketing visionary Mitch Joel." :)

    Reply
    • Aren't we all trying to balance self-promotion with narcissism (to be fair)?

      My rule of thumb is: no self-anointed titles. If someone else (somewhat credible) gives you a title (even one like that), there's nothing wrong with using it. I also do caveat it with either who called me that or by saying, "he has been called..." I'm trying to be as transparent about it as possible while ensuring that no one thinks it's a title I gave myself.

      Reply
  • Posted by Adam Singer
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch - you do realize that is by design on Facebook and Twitter? They are smart and have architected the sites to be "about you." They understand sociology very well and are working to feed user's egos and keep them using the service. This stuff isn't by mistake. As for monitoring your brand, nothing wrong with that.

    Reply
    • Oh, I totally get it. The bigger thought is more around what the result is. We tend to forget how much serendipity and learning we can get vs. navel gazing and our having our entire online experience focused on who's saying what about us. I'm starting to realize how unhealthy that can be.

      Reply
  • Posted by David B. Thomas
    Mitch Joel

    I think this is just one of those human behaviors that the Internet in general and social media in particular makes more immediate and more obvious. I've met a few people who say, "I don't care what other people think of me," but very few who actually mean it.

    Reply
    • I would love to meet the individual who can honestly say that (and be able to pass a lie detector test). I think humanity is based on how we fit in and how others feel about us. Not to mention how we think of those we're connected to. Because, if you don't care what people think about you, then it must be that you think equally of everyone you're connected with. Sounds sort of impossible.

      Reply
  • Posted by andy
    Mitch Joel

    To a certain degree, the notion of me me me is starting to choke us all. If all we do is track, read and react to what is being said, we will lose sight of other important viewpoints and facts.

    I scratch my head over the need to check in on our comings and goings. Why is our self worth tied up in gettings points or being crowned the major of the RbBarn, or the local strbx or bookstore.
    When people feel compelling to start posting this trite to out twitter feeds, it starts to devalue why we joined in the first place.

    I came to learn, share and grow. Joining in on the race to die with the most followers and points is certainly a life choice and perhaps busniness strategy. If you do get a Tweet reply that says ,#plmkwysdt, it means I like what you share. But your updates are getting too narcisitic.

    Reply
    • It's a fine line, because even when we share, what we're telling people is "look what I found," which in turn is another form of "look at me." I don't see so much wrong in our need/desire to share. I think that is good. I get more concerned that the more time I spend on my own content, the less serendipity I am bringing into my life. This will cause a much narrower world view. That something that saddens me.

      Reply
  • Posted by WoodsFTL
    Mitch Joel

    Perhaps there are some of us who still have MSN or YAHOO pop up as our home page, and we are checking Facebook to see what our friends are doing ... the last time I Googled my own name was in 2007 when my second book was published - I plan to check again when the next book comes out, just to see what places online are carrying it....
    Not all of us are on the Information Highway just to see where we are and where we are going or have been ... some of us are really still interested in a greater destination and in admiring the scenery along the way ...

    Reply
    • ... well then, clearly, there are people (like you) who are bigger than me and the mass populous. The web stats are pretty clear at where the masses are hanging out, and most of those spaces are bastions of narcissism. Good on ya for not falling into the trap like I have.

      Reply
  • Posted by CT Moore
    Mitch Joel

    The principles of happinomics (https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/84/happinomics.html) dictate that this approach to life and culture will leave us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.

    And you know what? That makes perfect sense.

    Human beings are social creatures. We find meaning and purpose in others and the community, not ourselves.

    I think our "individuality" is just a portal to that community. Just think about how our profile on Facebook becomes our portal to our networks. And without others and the community, that profile (and Facebook writ large) would be meaningless.

    So in a nutshell, I think that the narcissism is a kind of social poison. Just like Google might be turning us into "pancake people" by fostering in us a much broader, more shallow knowledge base, I think that the narcissism is doing the same thing to our relationships.

    If we're focused too much on ourselves, we don't develop those deep, meaningful relationships with others. And when it's all said and done, and we look back on it all, we can't really say that we'll miss anyone or that they'll miss us.

    Of course, the problem, I think, is that the technology fosters these pancake networks. So it's up to each of us, individually, to make sure we don't let it run amok on our concept of meaning and happiness.

    Reply
    • Posted by John McLachlan
      Mitch Joel

      I loved that article about Happinomics. I do wonder how it works regarding online community conversations and working together.

      Reply
    • I have not seen that article, CT - thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      What's weird is that the more online I am and the more connected I am, the more I feel a greater connectivity to the human race. The more emotional I am. The more I believe that we are, truly, created equal, and the more I want to help others who may be in worse shape than I am.

      It's that paradox, wrapped in an enigma that is wrapped in bacon (to quote Homer Simpson).

      Reply
  • Posted by Rex Hammock
    Mitch Joel

    There's a wide spectrum of activities one can do online that are, in essence, an extension of what we do offline to "manage" our identities. On one end of the spectrum are activities that are healthy, even necessary, egocentric acts -- but they aren't, necessarily, "narcissistic." On the other end of the spectrum are, indeed, clear acts of narcissism. (Calling oneself a guru, for example.)

    However, I must stop there, because the way in which this discussion is set up would require me to talk more about how I personally approach such issues, and, well, doing that could be construed as narcissistic self-absorbed navel gazing. And, alsol, I'm far too busy being a guru to waste my time doing that. ; )

    Reply
    • You're right (as you often are). This may be a lot more about acceptance, balance and understanding/being able to recognize when you're doing it to help yourself grow vs. doing it just to feed one's own ego.

      Reply
  • Posted by Phil Baumann
    Mitch Joel

    Important topic.

    ...But there's another kind of narcissism that's taking place, one that's more subtle.

    Inadvertent Narcissism.

    When, for instance, you use Google (and not for vanity/reputation searches), Google returns results it thinks matches your needs. This isn't something we're necessarily conscious about, but it happens - and so, in a way, when we Google, we're sort of Googling a reflective pool of ourselves.

    So, there's this other inadvertent narcissism that's taking place at a more subconscious level.

    Not sure where that may be taking us, but perhaps it's time we think about how mindful we are of our use of technology.

    Like I always ask: are we using technology to empower us, or is technology using us to empower itself?

    @PhilBaumann

    Reply
    • ... or does the technology wind up wrapping us up into our own little world? A place where our worldview shrinks or only aligns with those who are like-minded. It's going to be the blend between using our feeds and friends to stay relevant and then opening our minds to trying very different things. As an aside, that is why every Saturday, Alistair Croll, Hugh McGuire and I choose one link from our respective (and different) worlds that we feel the other should see. What winds up happening is a whole new level of understanding and learning from areas I would have never found otherwise.

      Reply
  • Posted by Michael Netzley
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch. Thanks for the provocative post. I am afraid at my age I have been been in that place you describe for several reasons, more than just social media. But you also started me thinking about the differences here in Asia. So many people here set the privacy settings on their Internet shrines so high that no such shrine functionally exists. It is very interesting how some cultures are more open to standing out and narcissism than others. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of personal shrines over here, but painting with a broad stroke the tendency toward privacy appears much stronger to me than in western countries. Maybe I should go blog about this....

    Reply
    • I'm wondering if it's less about having the shrine versus the individual desire to be constantly looking at, polishing and showing off the shrines we have created to ourselves? Probably many more Blog posts coming soon ;) I miss the Singapore seafood...

      Reply
  • Posted by Chad B.
    Chad B.

    Mitch- like your article and it fosters so many thoughts and questions. When asking these please understand I am not asking so that you need to answer or be defensive because I believe this is one of the biggest battles we all face. Who is saying what about you? A great lie. What hole are we all trying to fill with money, accolades, titles, houses, ect... What is missing? When we write any article/blog/email/company memo it has an outward appearance or spin yet the only thing that really matter is the true condition of your heart when you write it. Is it the truth? What were my motives? I believe so many of us don't take the time to think of that. Your article shines a great light on a great issue facing every person regardless of their position or where they live. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • I would not be defensive about these questions at all. In fact, it's the reason I was so candid and naked in stating what so many of us do, but pretend that we don't do.

      In essence, you and I are asking the same questions. As I stated in the Blog post, I'm not sure why I do this and I'm not sure why I can't stop either.

      I'm on this journey with all of you to (hopefully) discover an answer or learn more about myself and about Social Media.

      Reply
      • Posted by Chad B
        Chad B

        Mitch-
        Thanks for sharing! Enjoy the journey it is unique to you. I really believe you are dealing with the root of so much unhappiness. We believe through all of our hard works and manipulation of OUR lives we can arrive at some place where everything will be perfect. The problem is all of our feelings are tied to our circumstances and they will change constantly. What if everyone knew they're acceptable, they matter, they’re forgivable, they're lovable, they're capable, and they're valuable? What would happen to narcissism? The narcissist in all of us can't believe this is possible without all of our own efforts.

        Reply
        • I'm lying down on a couch while I listen to this... sounds like good therapy to me...

          Reply
          • Posted by Chad B
            Chad B

            Mitch- How great social media can be, it isn't the problem, we are...or should I say "I am" (lol). Social media is a great tool, how we use it or twist it reveals to ourselves or publically the true condition of our hearts. If we are honest as your article is, and seek the truth then we gain. If we continue to hide the truth then prepare for more "chasing of the tail". Great article I love the transparency. Know if I we were real friends I would ask you did you write the blog for the response and the fact you knew so many would respond and could relate, or because it truly disturbs you? I believe MOTIVES are so important. If I do a great thing but for the wrong reasons I believe I am in more trouble then if I wouldn't have done the thing at all.

            Reply
  • Posted by Ian M Rountree
    Mitch Joel

    Back in the day (Oh lord, I hate that phrase), we had to go out to get things. We went to the store for food. We went to web portals for information. We logged onto BBS systems, went to chat rooms, went to the trouble of using ICQ to connect to a well-curated group of friends. We travelled to see things, to buy things, to go to business meetings.

    Now, we have RSS, Twitter, remote meeting software, and underwear delivery by subscription.

    What have we become? Perhaps narcissistic. Perhaps something worse: We may have moved from being convenience-interested to being convenience-based.

    Reply
    • If you have yet to see the movie, Surrogates (with Bruce Willis), check it out. The movie itself isn't that great (I'd review it one word as: craptastic), but the overall them and plot is aligned with your comment. Check it out and let me know what you think.

      Reply
      • Posted by Ian M Rountree
        Mitch Joel

        I've seen it - and agree. The commentary is compelling.

        It's interesting to see that, nearly 10 years after we were first able to order pizza over the internet, we're still getting used to our new capabilities - and that a counter-culture has already popped up. Foursquare and location-based services demanding that we get off our collective butts to use them effectively. Mobility becoming a reality, so we can do our work from anywhere, beyond just the office or a home office.

        As much as I don't think we need to worry about becoming an entirely convenience-reliant culture, it's certainly worth being aware that the slippery slope exists.

        But then, the same goes for narcissism, right? :)

        Reply
        • We all thought technology would turn us into shut-ins (another Surrogates reference, I supposed), but we're currently in the middle of phase where we're connecting and even pushing those connections in our everyday/physical lives.

          Reply
          • Posted by Ian M Rountree
            Mitch Joel

            Exactly so - We've passed the "Exploration" phase, and are nearing the end of the "Exploitation" phase for communications platforms. Next is "ubiquity" - where we all wonder what we ever did before this constant, ambient connectivity. Youngsters like my son, will think the same way about a world without the internet, as I used to about a world without cable; as "the dark ages".

            Reply
  • Posted by Nathan
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, I'm relieved that you're talking about this, because I've been pondering this quite a bit lately, and I wondered how guys like you, who are much more out in the open than I am, handle it.

    I've had this thought after a guest post on Copyblogger or Social Media Examiner, where I watch 1000 RT's go buy to feed my ego, or when a specific post of mine gets 50+ comments, etc.

    We're almost setting ourselves up for being down when we are in a state of non-production. For a while, I was addicted to posting just because of the reaction.

    It's not really normal, at least for me, but I found myself being drawn in time after time. I looked at guys like you and thought that maybe you were just super human and didn't worry about things like this :)

    It is narcissistic, yet outside of our little circles, people don't know us from the next guy.

    Reply
    • It's not scalable and on top of the narcissism, as my platform grows, I feel like I am letting down people because I can't respond as quickly or because it's impossible to follow-back everybody and retweet every message. I'm not trying to sound like I'm "too big for this," because I'm humbled and in constant awe that anybody would find what I have to say all that interesting.

      The truth is that I love what I do and I appreciate each and every piece of content that is created because of something I initiated, but you're right, the narcissism is partly there because I'm trying to make sure everyone who mentions me gets some kind of acknowledgement. Not easy... but it could be worse: there could nobody who cares about me... then what?

      Reply
      • Posted by Nathan Hangen
        Mitch Joel

        Well, one could argue that this sort of thing doesn't equate to caring anyway, but I suppose that it's a numbers game. You build 10,000 relationships to find 10 that really care.

        Funny, but 5 years ago we wouldn't even be having this conversation. It's amazing how the landscape change change overnight.

        Reply
  • Mitch- Very good post.. I personally feel you are being "too hard" on yourself... You publish REMARKABLE content, and you have attracted "EYEBALLS" to yourself... You personally Entertain and Educate me, which is why I read your blog daily... Keep letting your light shine on, and maybe perhaps turn down the volume on your "alerts" so you can keep your focus on Service..... Best to ALL, Brian-

    Reply
  • Posted by John McLachlan
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch: thanks for the reminder about this issue. We all do it to some degree and it's generally insidious and we don't even know it. I had a controversial blog post published on a local online arts paper/website this past week and I have to admit, I kept going back to see how many people "liked" it. It's crazy.

    I guess the tricky part is being aware enough that we can distinguish the difference between looking at ourselves or looking at all this from the point of view of "the brand."

    I took Tom Peters "The Brand Called You" to heart in the 1990s and I think it's great but now we have all these channels to express it. Before we didn't. For many solo workers or those with a "personality" in their company (like you), it's all blurred now. It's unavoidable to not have it appear somewhat narcissistic.

    Having read your post, I wanted to just go disable Facebook for awhile, stop telling people what I'm doing on Twitter etc, to see if the world would look different.

    Reply
    • When I step back and simply look at what is being said on Twitter or on my Wall in Facebook, I find it very grounding versus constantly thinking of content to fill it with. Sometimes stopping to smell the roses of others instead of thinking with a "look at me!" mindset equalizes the world (just a little bit).

      Reply
  • Posted by Jim Kukral
    Mitch Joel

    What have we become?

    Marketers.

    Resistance is futile.

    Reply
  • The narcissism exists in all of us in form or the other. The difference is the way of expression how we can distinguish it and stand out of crowd. As much as marketing is considered, it is part of our view and how we perceive things. It seems crazy to let the people view things from our point of view.

    Reply
  • It's all true to varying degrees. But in today's social world, we are creating, expecting and demanding personalised experiences more than ever so maybe that's part of the explanation. The good news though, is that I think we all recognise that a mention, comment, quote or link don't mean a thing unless there's some engagement on the end of it. Staking our personality / thoughts / brand unashamedly out there is a step towards engaging that's pretty important - we're cutting through the grey area these days and homing straight in to those we feel we can somehow glean value from and hopefully put some back. So that makes it easier. It's an evolution we shouldn't feel too bad about - it's all relative :)

    Reply
    • But all of this activity is about one's own self, and because it takes up so much time, it's important for all of us to be cognizant of it. We do these things to connect and expand our community, but because it all circles around the individual, we do risk getting caught in a scenario where all of our work "out there" is really all about "me, me, me."

      Reply
  • Posted by Monica Diaz
    Mitch Joel

    A true danger of social media use, of course! But I have not really found this to be an issue with most of the people I frequent there. The LeadChange group, Dave Carpenter, Kat Tansey, Randall Krause, Susan Mazza, Jack King...so many more I could mention here. They make a difference to me. They make me want to be a better person, leader, instigator...and I move into action with their support. Every single day. They also do not come across as narcissistic at all! They may be promoting there work now and again but they are not overly focussed on that. And the work they promote is great stuff too. So do I wonder if I am being narcissistic there? YES! And I believe asking yourself the question is a productive way of steering away from it. We all have the potential to be narcissistic and to snap out of it! Being on Social Media reminds me there are others out there with loftier missions, deeper hearts, and much to teach me. Thanks for your reflection here. It's a good thing to keep in mind as we go forward into this brave new world! :)

    Reply
    • I think all of those actions and all of those people are not the issue - at all. The issue is that we all - myself included - spend the boatload of our time talking about, following and responding to pieces of content that are strictly directed at us.

      Reply
  • Posted by Holly Hodges
    Mitch Joel

    I'm currently reading 'The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement'. Jean Twenge & w. Keith Campbell explain on how narcissism has been promoted since the 70's. Now, it's even not viewed as a negative trait. The book is a real eye opener.

    Reply
    • After writing the Blog post, I looked at it with my head tilted slightly to the right and wondered, "maybe narcissism isn't such a bad thing?" I'll be checking out that book. Thank you for the recommendation.

      Reply
  • Posted by Tom Webster
    Mitch Joel

    I think maybe you just know too many marketers :)

    Reply
  • Posted by sebastian
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch, all,

    I've found this "public introspection" quite relevant for everybody. But not only for these days and these tools. That is relevant for any lucid person who is interested in his/her legacy (so works, so brands). Specially offline.

    One idea that becomes interesting for strong egos is to ask themselves
    "in what I'm going to use this social capital I've achieved?"

    That question will challenge you to find a purpose that can transform your "I don't like this" in "wow, this makes me feel nervous" (in a good sense).

    Hint 1: affecting others for a greater good is (an almost infinite) source of valuable challenges.

    Hint 2: a strong ego is something good after all. Is the narcissism that put your purpose and efforts in a cul-de-sac (dead end).

    Reply
  • Posted by Jason Keath
    Mitch Joel

    "Self-absorbed" and "narcissism" are loaded terms. Borrowing from Keith Campbell, if you replace them with "self starters" or "individualists" you bring out the positives of this type of behavior.

    Most people are self absorbed. The internet just allows us to see it more easily. When you check your mail box are you not looking for the letters and magazines addressed to you? When you meet new people do you not react more positively to the people that like you, that shower you with kindness, that focus on you?

    We are all after happiness and finding our place in the world, being heard. When we help others, when we put the focus on others rather than ourselves it is a great thing. But you can't help anyone if you do not first help yourself.

    The benefits of building one's own self-esteem and self belief is very important. Feeling that you are better than other people is even important, to a degree of course. If you are not able to raise yourself up a little, you will have no belief that you can help others.

    There is a line here for sure, as there is with anything. But I don't think what you are pointing out is a real issue. Focusing on yourself first is nature. It is survival. When that becomes your only purpose is when the negative aspects of narcissism come into view.

    Thanks for the conversation Mitch.

    Reply
  • Posted by Anita Sanz
    Mitch Joel

    I'm in agreement with previous commentators: figure out your true intention for doing what you're doing. If it's to have an impact for good, then proof of impact isn't just ego-stroking. But ego-stroking almost always feels good...so good that it can become the end that justifies the means.

    Reply
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