Narcissists and Psychopaths on the Internet
Interview granted to Misty Harris of CanWest on February 23, 2005 Q. How might technology be enabling narcissism, particularly for the Internet generation? A. To believe that the Internet is an unp...
Interview granted to Misty Harris of CanWest on February 23, 2005
Q. How might technology be enabling narcissism, particularly for the Internet generation?
A. To believe that the Internet is an unprecedented phenomenon with unique social implications is, in itself, narcissistic. The Internet is only the latest in a long series of networking-related technological developments. By definition, technology is narcissistic. It seeks to render us omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent - in other words, Godlike.
The Internet allows us to replicate ourselves and our words (through vanity desktop publishing, blogs, and posting online content on Web sites), to playact our favorite roles, to communicate instantly with thousands (narrowcasting), to influence others, and, in general, to realize some of our narcissistic dreams and tendencies.
Q. Why is it a bad thing to have a high opinion of yourself?
A. It is not a bad thing if it is supported by commensurate achievements. If the gap between fantasy and reality is too big, a dysfunction that we call "pathological narcissism" sets in.
Q. What does it say about our culture that we encourage narcissistic characteristics in people? (example: Paris Hilton - we made her a star for loving herself)
A. Celebrity culture is not a new thing. It is not a culture-dependent phenomenon. Celebrities fulfil two emotional functions for their fans: they provide a mythical narrative (a story that the fan can follow and identify with) and they function as blank screens onto which the fans project their dreams, hopes, fears, plans, values, and desires (wish fulfilment).
Western culture emphasizes ambition, competitiveness, materialism, and individualism. These admittedly are narcissistic traits and give the narcissist in our society an opening advantage.
But narcissism exists in a different form in collectivist societies as well. As Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state in their seminal tome, "Personality Disorders in Modern Life":
"In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is 'God's gift to the world'. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is 'God's gift to the collective'".
Read about the Wikipedia as a case of online pathological narcissism
Interview granted to Agencia Efe, Spain, April 2008
1. Does the Internet make a special amplification of narcissism or is just the reflection of reality? How, despite of the fact that many people is disturbed by the anonymous characters that you can adopt in the Internet, the exhibitionism is, maybe, more usual. I mean, in terms of narcissism? Can a person be addicted to the web because is own narcissism?
A. The narcissist likes to appear to be mysterious. It enhances his self-perceived sense of omnipotence, it renders him "unique" and "interesting". The right moniker (Internet alias or handle) imbues the narcissist with a sense of immunity and superiority and permits him to commit the most daring or heinous acts.2. What kind of lacks or necessities there are behind this behaviour? What are we expecting when we search our name on Google? Can we construct our image with the pieces of us in the internet?
A. The Internet is the hi-tech equivalent of a giant mirror. Like the mythical Narcissus, it allows us to fall in love with our reflection every day anew. We gaze into the depths of the Internet to reassure ourselves of our continuity and very existence. It is our modern photo album; a repository of snippets of our lives; and our external memory.
In psychoanalytic terms, the Internet replaces some of our ego functions: it regulates our sense of self-worth; puts us in touch with reality and with others; and structures our interactions (via its much vaunted peer-pressure of the Netiquette and the existence of editors and moderators).
We crave attention and feedback: proof positive that we matter, that someone cares about us, that we are not mere atoms in a disjointed and anomic Universe. In this sense, the Internet substitutes for God and many social functions by reassuring us that we fit into a World that, though amorphous and protean, is sustaining, predictable, constant, and nurturing. The Internet replaces our parents as a source of nourishment, support, caring, discipline, and omniscience.
3. In the case of the blogs, what's the point in common in the idea of doing a private diary and be available for everybody?
A. I am not sure what you mean. Blogs are anything but private. They are explicitly meant for public consumption, thrive on public attention, and encourage interaction with the public (through the comments area). One can set one's blog or online journal to "private", though, as the hi-tech equivalent of a personal diary.
4. Internet, with their blogs, Facebook, Myspace or YouTube, has create the possibility of make yourself famous without promotion, just with the progressive diffusion of your material. Examples like the singers Mika and Lilly Allen or many bloggers, can it make a new way of realizing the "American dream" for the users of the Internet?
A. Being famous encompasses a few important functions: it endows us with power, provides us with a constant Source of Narcissistic Supply (admiration, adoration, approval, awe), and fulfils important Ego functions.
The Internet caters to our narcissistic traits and propensities and allows us to become "celebrities-by-replication". The image that the blogger or artist projects is hurled back at him, reflected by those exposed to his instant celebrity or fame. By generating multiple copies of himself and his work, he feels alive, his very existence is affirmed and he acquires a sensation of clear boundaries (where he ends and the world begins).
There is a set of narcissistic behaviours typical to the pursuit of celebrity. There is almost nothing that the Net celebrity refrains from doing, almost no borders that he hesitates to cross to achieve renown. To him (or, increasingly, her), there is no such thing as "bad publicity": what matters is to be in the public eye at any price.
Because narcissistic individuals equally enjoy all types of attention and like as much to be feared as to be loved, for instance – they don't mind if what is published about them is wrong ("as long as they spell my name correctly"). The celebrity blogger or artist experiences bad emotional stretches only when he lacks attention, or publicity.
It is then that some bloggers, artists, and Webmasters plot, contrive, plan, conspire, think, analyse, synthesise and do whatever it takes to regain the lost exposure in the public eye. The more they fail to secure the attention of the target group (preferably, the entire Internet community), the more daring, eccentric and outlandish they become. A firm decision to become known is transformed into resolute action and then to a panicky pattern of attention seeking behaviours.
It is important to understand that the blogger/artist/Webmaster are not really interested in publicity per se. They appear to be interested in becoming a celebrity, but, in reality, they are concerned with the REACTIONS to their newly-acquired fame: people watch them, notice them, talk about them, debate their actions – therefore they exist.
5. There are many new applications to feed human narcissism on the net: Googlefight, Egosurf.org, the blogs themselves... Could be used narcissism as a business?
A. Every good business is founded on the mass psychology of its clientele. In a narcissistic civilization, business is bound to adapt and become increasingly more narcissistic. The Internet started off as an information exchange. The surge of (mainly American) users transformed it in profound ways. User-generated "content" is a thin veneer beneath which lurks the seething and pathological narcissism of the masses. Narcissism is our main business organizing principle outside the Internet as well: cosmetics, fashion, health, publishing, show business, the media, and the financial industries all rest on firm narcissistic foundations. The management class itself is highly narcissistic!
6. Can be satisfied the true and pathologic narcissism just with the feed-back on the Internet or it needs, finally, to put in "real" his power of attraction.
A. What's not real about the Internet? This dichotomy between virtual and real is false. The Internet is as real as it gets and, for many of its users, it is the only reality and the only frame of reference. It is "reality" as we used to know it that is gradually vanishing and being replaced by "virtual" substitutes: print media are dying and giving way to blogs and online news aggregators; iTunes and Napster and BitTorrent and eMule are ruining the very physical music CD; there is more published on the Internet than is available in many brick and mortar libraries, and so on.
7. Could presence or non-presence in Internet create a new kind of social class?
A. Like every other social phenomenon, the Internet gave rise to a stratified society with hackers, crackers, nerds, geeks, Wikipedians, bloggers, etc. occupying various niches. Not using the Internet - a kind of Internet Luddism - may yet become a badge of honor. Internet addicts may become either outcasts or the new elite. Who knows? Everything digital is still in its formative years and still in flux.
8. How dangerous is narcissism, inside or outside the web?
A. Very dangerous. Just read the list of diagnostic criteria for the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD): the narcissist lacks empathy, is arrogant, exploits people, is envious, has a strong and unjustified sense of entitlement, and is obsessive and delusional. Many narcissists are also psychopaths. Pathological narcissism is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders (a phenomenon called "co-morbidity"). Narcissists are over-represented among criminals, gamblers, and people with reckless and inconsiderate behaviors.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com/ ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East.He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.