Narcissism (n): extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.
In Ovid’s book “Metamorphoses,” he recounts the story of a man named Narcissus. While walking through the woods, Narcissus encounters a Nymph named Echo, but—because of his self-righteous and self-centered attitude—he shuns her affections toward him.
After the events transpire, the goddess Nemesis—the goddess of revenge (and yes, that’s where the word “nemesis” comes from)—devised a plan to punish the beautifully uncaring man who was Narcissus. Taking advantage of Narcissus’ self love, Nemesis lures him to a pool of water, and as he gazes into the reflective surface, he falls in love with his own reflection—he then kills himself beneath the surface of his own reflection when he understands his immense love can never be acted upon.
So why am I telling you this story? The reason is quite simple: antiquated stories often act as the best means of understanding the most unsettling dilemmas of the present day—with old knowledge, we conquer present day conundrums.
Just as Narcissus drowned beneath the reflective mirror of a tranquil pool, we too drown ourselves beneath a mirror of a different kind: we drown beneath a black mirror.
Sitting down in front of a computer screen, gazing into our tablets and tapping away at a cellphone, we dive beneath the surface of our personal mirrors—and just like Narcissus, we begin to drown. We gladly leave the physical world and enter the digital world; we become enamored with the self we purport to be within the digital realm—a self so beautifully crafted we cannot help but engage with self love. Unlike Narcissus; however, we do not literally drown ourselves with narcissism: we figuratively drown ourselves in self-admiration; sometimes I wonder if Narcissus suffered a lesser punishment.
In the digital world, people easily fall victim to the same evil Narcissus fell victim too—ourselves. The digital world of social media—a social world composed of intangible pixels—creates an immense, insatiable yearning for individual recognition. The digital self—the self we see gazing back toward us from the ashen mirror—craves attention (in the form of “likes”) from others beneath the mirror’s surface.
In our quest for pixelated acknowledgment, we linger beneath the surface of our personal mirrors for greater lengths of time; we anxiously await others to affirm the greatness we imagine ourselves to be.
When one considers the alternative evils, constant immersion in the digital world appears to be a problem possessing negligible repercussions.
But let us consider some of the long term costs of prolonged infatuation with our digital selves: a generation of self-centered beings concerned more about the individual good than the common good, a generation of individuals incapable of engaging in meaningful physical interactions and conversation, a generation of silent crowded rooms, empty parks and ominously quiet dining room tables.
I am no technophob, nor do I intend to ever be one, but I do hold reservations (rightly so, I believe) about the technology people only refer to with admiration—rather than approaching the proliferation of social media and digital technology without questions, I approach with timid excitement; I hope it is an approach others adopt, too.
So as the social and digital revolution travel onward, I hope others can take a moment to emerge from the depths of the digital pool—I think some may find they were gasping for fresh air; others may realize the air is unbreathable—they have already drowned.