Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Makes Us Narcissistic”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

As a teenager, I remember seeing my friends after they came home from a vacation and going through a ton of pictures that they had just taken after their trip. Sometimes I would be mesmerized, and sometimes I would be thoroughly bored. Some pictures were amazing, and some had a thumb covering the shot. The roll of film didn’t allow you to delete, so you had to take the good with the bad.

I experienced this as most had in my generation, but was this an act of narcissism or simply was it an act of wanting someone to care? I would say the majority of people that I know share things and want to know others care, whether it is sharing pictures of their family, trips, or their own ideas. Many people love to share, while also enjoying being acknowledged. When my sister-in-law shares images of my nephews and nieces growing up, or even of her own life, I do not see it as a narcissistic act. In fact, those images allow me to connect with my family that I was not able to experience even 15 years ago. What may be seen as narcissistic to some, is gold to others We just have the option whether we want to look or not.

When I saw this video of a young boy asking for a single “like” on his first YouTube video, I thought, “is this a narcissistic kid or someone who just wants to know somebody cares?” I have no idea of this kid’s situation, but I remember being an awkward, chubby kid, and having that feeling that I would wish someone would pay attention to me. I was teased mercilessly and wanted to be recognized for doing something well, not for being overweight and I wonder how this audience can actually shape someone’s own self-perception in a positive way.

So what happened when the boy got a single like? Well he was so excited that he made another video asking for 3-5 likes, and ended up getting millions.

We tell kids to embrace themselves, yet when we see them share “selfless”. we label them as inward focused. Is this their narcissism, or is this our insecurity.  I actually saw one educator talk about how one student out of a panel of ten should be commended for giving up his smartphone and stated, “Wouldn’t every parent want a child like him?”  What does that say about the other kids?

And what about selfies?  A “Dove” commercial challenged the notion of selfies about being narcissistic and actually a way to celebrate ourselves, no matter what shape or form, as being beautiful.  The film tries to paint a different narrative on what a selfie can actually say to a young woman:

The film, directed by Academy Award-winner Cynthia Wade, dives right into the heart of Dove’s brand mission: Convincing young women that the things they hate most about themselves are the features that make them most beautiful. The twist is that the high school girls are assigned not just to rethink their own selfies, but to give their equally self-loathing moms a selfie lesson too.

So instead of painting kids as “narcissistic”, why not help them see themselves in a more positive light?

Personally, I love this picture taken by my brother of his three year old daughter Bea taking a selfie.  If you know Bea, she is a very confident young girl, while also having a warm and loving heart.  Is any of that bad?  Is this not what we would want for our kids as they grow up?

There are definitely people who are out there that are narcissistic, but technology didn’t do that to them, it just gave them an audience.  Instead of painting everyone with the same brush, I think it is important to take an inward look at ourselves and see why people sharing themselves would bother us so much.

3 thoughts on “Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Makes Us Narcissistic”

  1. Chris Rogers

    “Technology didn’t do that to them, it just gave them an audience.” This really rings true to me not just as it relates to narcissism, but to many of the ills of society. Technology amplifies the good and the bad and gives them both a larger, more easily accessible audience. Kids don’t see this technology as inherently good or bad, it just IS for them. They are growing up in a technology-infused world, and efforts to revoke access or commend them for giving it up like you mentioned are reflective of a fixed adult mindset that does a great disservice to our young people. If we are to lead our youth in learning to use technology responsibly, we need a major mindset shift. It reminds me of my parents’ youth when their parents burned the Beatles records, and of my own when our parents made us give up our tape players because they didn’t like the sound of the “new” music. Thanks for sharing, and I’m looking forward to your ISTE session this summer.

  2. Vincent Day

    Admittedly, I was among those not in favor or “selfies” as I did think it bordered on “narcissistic.” However, I’ve changed since George visited SCH – I never use Social Media as a platform for negativity, nor do I engage folks that do. On the other hand, I use it to celebrate others achievements while choosing to appreciate what friends and colleagues share— joining the positivity.

  3. daveguymon

    George, this is a very timely and well-written post. The points you make here are the seeds for paradigm shifts. I too remember my first day of college with a roommate from China whom I had never met before. He asked if I wanted to see pictures of how he had spent his summer. Agreeing to look at them with him, I had no idea that this would become a two-hour process. Nevertheless, at no point did I think this boy was self-indulged. Having come to America for the first time, he was excited to share all the places he had been and memories he was able to make along the way. Rather than causing an envious rift between the two of us, this photo sharing experience served as a great opportunity for two strangers to connect on a human level. Now, with sharing pictures, videos, and status updates easier than ever, that we post artifacts from our lives online does not mean that we are self-indulged. Instead, it means that we want to connect and are trying to do so in the simplest manner, by sharing our lives with others. I really appreciate what you have written here, and I will certainly bookmark it to share with others now and as this discussion continues to come up.

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