Oct 28, 2012 9:00AM

Oyster Words: Hazel Cills on Digital Narcissism

"Digital narcissism — a common problem among teenagers with internet connections."

I am a teenager who has grown up in the Internet Age. When I was in sixth grade I had a Xanga, and then in seventh grade I got a MySpace. I blogged on both platforms, and by 'blogging' I mean 'typed out angsty Interpol lyrics alongside melancholy hi-res pictures I had taken of flowers'. In high school I moved on to a Blogspot, and subsequently got a Twitter in order to further digitally document whatever the fuck was (and still is) happening in my brain at any given time. In total I have had around 20 different social networking accounts over the course of my young internet adulthood. Four of those have been blogging platforms, not including Twitter. The rest are websites that document (in detail) what I'm reading, what I'm listening to, what shows I'm going to, what movies I'm watching, and so on and so on until almost every single thing that I am doing is plastered on a webpage for the world to view, like, and comment on. Without these websites, how would people know how super-interesting I am? I'd like to blame the existence of these websites on my incurable, possibly fatal, psychological disposition: digital narcissism. 

I am not the only young person plagued by digital narcissism — it's a common problem among teenagers with internet connections. As I scroll through my feeds, I see tweets like, "I have been wearing flip-flops a lot lately lol omg sooo weird", extreme close-up pictures of In-N-Out burgers with a Rise filter, and "Your friend [insert name here] is listening to Vengaboys on Spotify." Digital narcissistic behaviour isn't like normal narcissistic behaviour, because it relies solely upon the existence of social media. The only reason platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are successfully up and running is because there are enough people in this world who want to let everyone know what they're up to at all times. In the real world nobody really cares what I ate for dinner, but for some reason I feel the need to tweet "just ate noodles" or "noodle time!!! :)" or maybe "check out these fucking noodles right now or I'm going to hurt you". Maybe I'll upload a Twitpic of said noodles. Maybe I will immediately delete the tweet to add a sense of mystery to my internet presence. Do you hate me yet?

The internet makes people want to overshare because it sugarcoats things with a layer of social acceptability. You wouldn't walk around your neighbourhood handing out selfies and saying, "GPOY: Totally Gorgeous Edition", but you would probably be OK with posting the photo and the accompanying caption to Tumblr, right? Although it isn't just trivial things that are posted, like a picture of your cat wearing a Victorian ruff or a status about whether or not you picked pinto over black beans at Chipotle. Sometimes it's weirder things that get posted to the web, like a person from high school that you thought was cool posting an article that claims "OBAMA IS A TERRORIST HERE'S PROOF!!! AMERICA!!!"

But, the question is: do people really care? It's fun to imagine the thought processes behind all those Instagram pictures of cups of coffee and all those Facebook likes, but if you liked the page for the child model Diva Davanna on Facebook and no one was around to witness the like in their Facebook feed, did you ever really like her at all? It's sort of like that analogy of the trees falling in the forest, but trees (and forests) are a foreign concept to my generation. (Are they like cellphone towers or something?) People are never just talking about themselves on the internet; they're sharing themselves. Nobody creates a blog without expecting some sort of audience, and when people put content out into the World Wide Web, they know it will be seen. If people really wanted a place to document their thoughts in private they would have a diary or a scrapbook, but somehow the status "Skrillex waz InsANe last night!!" might not make the most riveting diary entry. And that Photobooth selfie of you eating nachos at 3 am? Not sure if that would look as good in a scrapbook as it did on Tumblr.

Ultimately, someone is always going to care about what you're doing — and they'll want to read about it on the internet. It might not be the 'I'll always be here for you in your darkest hour' kind of caring — maybe more the 'retweet' kind of caring. But whether you're volunteering at your neighborhood soup kitchen or shopping at Ikea for weird office furniture, someone will be following you online. Trust me, I know, because I'm pretty sure everyone really, really, really cares about me.

Follow Hazel on Twitter, read her blog, read her articles at Rookie, and read her BuzzFeed.

This is an article from Oyster #101, on sale now!