I just read this article by Stephen Marche in the Atlantic about loneliness, narcissism, and social media. It’s wonderfully nuanced and reasonably well-referenced (I still wish that standards for journalistic writing about research would change and require columnists to include a full bibliography at the end of their articles!). One of the big takeaways here is that social media (surprise, surprise) often reproduces or magnifies what goes in our physical lives. We can’t place the blame solely on technology, although social media does expose and exaggerate existing phenomena–in this case the relationship between narcissism and loneliness, and how both have been on the rise for quite some time.
At least in North America. And there’s the rub. The studies quoted here–their underlying data and ontologies and cultural realities–are absolutely Anglo-Saxon in orientation. Marche cannot disentangle himself from the very American mythos of autonomy. And perhaps he doesn’t want to. The article begins as a criticism of how Facebook amplifies loneliness and concludes with a call for solitude. Solitude is not the same as loneliness, of course; in fact, Marche makes precisely this point near the beginning of the article. But one senses behind the writing a human being who seeks the pleasure of both. “We are lonely,” Marche observes, “because we want to be lonely.”
There are many quotable passages. I’ve highlighted my favourite ones in this Evernote clip: