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In the last few Technocracy columns, I have dealt with topics that have in common the theme of your mental and emotional fortitude. How do you approach your use of the network of networks we now take for granted as integral to our communications, data transfer and entertainment infrastructures? What does your use of the Internet tell us about you? How does your reaction to the experience of interacting with others online inform your personal choices, emphasize your personal strengths and betray your personal shortcomings?

Our contemporary society and its medical and psychological establishments have concluded that there is an ailment, a condition, a disorder – and a spectrum on which that disorder is found – for every single negative human behavior and character trait. Whether it is increasingly common or simply increasingly revealed online, there is a “personality disorder” whose descriptors seem stunningly appropriate for much behavior that takes place on the Web. That is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD. The site Narcissism101 explains the disorder thusly:

Someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has at least 5 of these symptoms:

  • has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • requires excessive admiration
  • has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Doesn’t paint a pretty picture, does it? Yet I guarantee it perfectly describes many people with whom you’ve interacted online … especially if your interaction with them takes place exclusively on the Internet. The platform of the Internet and sites that share personal activity on the Web is tailor-made to facilitate NPD.

The Net gives each self-involved individual the opportunity to define, redefine, reinvent, or otherwise package himself to whatever degree he desires. He can claim to be whatever and whomever he aspires to be; he can manipulate the presentation of what he shares to bolster those claims; he can engage in a variety of behaviors (such as trolling or accusing others of trolling) to defend his fantasies and delusions, or to draw attention and criticism from himself.

This is the grand stage of the Internet, the public forum that is all Internet activity. There is very little Internet activity that is genuinely unedited and unscreened. The result is an epidemic of NPD inflicted on every member of every social media site, bulletin board, discussion forum and mailing list.

Awareness of raging, roiling, runaway NPD online is nothing new. Entire books have been written about it; media outlets have produced articles evaluating or promoting those books; articles analyzing articles about those other sources have explored and explored again the issue. There seems, in fact, to be a great deal of discussion about the people we see so busily discussing themselves.

Eliot Glazer wrote of online narcissism two years ago, saying, “The Internet Will See You Now.” He wrote, “We Tweet. … We blog. We update our status. We post pictures in real time. We share intimate details and vague musings as they happen, sending out attention-hungry pleas into the ether and hoping to receive some sort of validation in return.”

Glazer rightly wanted to know where this self-absorbed transmission of every detail of our daily existences would or could end. And, really, how can it end, when the social media sites that hold ever more sway in our technologically saturated lives encourage us to share every second of what we do? Twitter was built on the notion that people you may not even know personally are interested in when you go to sleep, what you had for lunch, or whether you’ve just “checked in” at your local gym. How could this be anything but the most addictive of narcotics for those whose drug of choice is themselves?

As no stranger to engaging in frequently pointless, often vehement and occasionally bitter arguments online, especially years ago when I was younger and less disciplined, I have seen NPD exhibited countless times. When I consider some of the people with whom I have virtually jousted – a self-destructive and wasteful activity I have since been successfully discouraged from indulging – I can see Narcissistic Personality Disorder radiating from every pixel of what these individuals wrote, filmed and uploaded. Can’t you?

Consider unpleasant discussions you’ve had online. Haven’t you encountered those who were convinced of their own brilliance, their own skill, their own accomplishment, so thoroughly that they were completely oblivious to the fools they were making of themselves? Haven’t you encountered men and women who were convinced a conspiracy was afoot to somehow cyberbully, abuse or otherwise misuse them, and thus vaguely evil external forces were always at fault for any ill these insecure victims experienced? Haven’t you been moved to pity when considering those so desperate to be seen as more than they are that you have forgotten, at times, that such people can be very dangerous?

If you read this and scoff, if you see projection or hypocrisy in these words, I urge you to look left and look right. Examine those around you. If it is the rest of the world that is wrong, if you stand above and beyond the mere mortals whose presence you are forced to tolerate, if you smugly judge every human being whose Facebook, Twitter or discussion site account you view … perhaps it isn’t those around you afflicted with pervasive NPD.

Maybe … just maybe … the narcissist is you.

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