2.26.2013

Humility, Narcissism, and Self-Awareness in the Age of Social Media

One of the ways social media has disrupted our cultural norms is in upending the usual differences between celebs and normal shmoes like you and me.  It used to be that it was only athletes, actors, and starlets whose every life detail was laid bare for all the world to see, while the rest of us operated in anonymity and privacy.  But it turns out that celebs really are not much different than we are: it's just that they got more coverage than us.

Social media inverts this dynamic.  Facebook and Twitter allow us to post the minutiae of our lives for our friends to follow.  How many of us have shared something with a friend in person, and they say, "Oh yeah, I saw that the other day on Facebook."  It's like we're curating our own little Entertainment Tonight or USA Today, starring us, and our friends and family can follow along from a distance so that by the time we actually see them in the flesh, they already know half the story or more.

On the other hand, Facebook and Twitter enable celebs to connect directly with their fans, and in the process many demonstrate just how...normal they are.  No longer are they sequestered from us by the media, who previously were our only conduit to our idols.  We ourselves can see a pic of Kobe playing Beethoven, DM LeBron, or receive an encouraging word from Gaga.  It's dizzying and kind of wonderful.

But enough about stars.  Back to us.  We like to bash on famous people who are jerks in real life, as if it's surprising that the trappings of fame and fortune should make them less likely to be mean and egotistical.  Be careful to judge, though.  I can't speak for others, but if I was as powerful, accomplished, or beloved as fill-in-the-blank-jerky-celeb, I'd probably be twice as unbearable. 

Even though I am not as powerful, accomplished, or beloved, I still get a little sliver of star treatment, thanks to social media.  I curate my own online presence, starring me, and people follow along; just as my friends curate their own online presence, starring themselves, and I follow along.  And so we experience just a little bit of what it is like to be a celeb.

And I gotta tell you, sometimes it feels really good.  But it is a feeling that is fraught with danger.  Because, at least for the Christian (and perhaps others share this in their world view), pride is a sinful act.  And it is easy to become prideful when the spotlight is on you.  A social media presence that is self-focused is, over time, soul-deteriorating.

Of course, just as in the real world, a virtual-world approach that is self-deprecating or invisible isn't necessarily the antidote, since false humility is no less a form of pride.  Nor necessarily, as in the real world, is an active pointing to something greater than us, like service or inspiration or the Almighty, since these things can also become sources of pride.

Pride, in the virtual world and in the real world, is hard to escape.  It takes a searing self-awareness few of us are courageous enough to get to, and a constant humbling of ourselves before our Creator who promises to humble those who exalt themselves and exalt those who humble themselves.  Let's hope that as social media becomes ever more pervasive in our lives, and as it upends the normal social conventions we have grown accustomed to, it becomes a milieu for us to vanquish pride in our lives, rather than letting pride vanquish us. 
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