Is Social Media Turning us into Narcissists?

Jeff Bullas New York Times v2

Social media is a siren call. It tempts us to participate, publish and sometimes seek attention.

It was just over 5 years ago and Facebook and Twitter were growing and beckoning. I joined, watched and was intrigued and captivated. The social networks enabled me to reach friends, family and colleagues while I sat at my desk.

My blog, Facebook page and Twitter account also touched global strangers who enjoyed the same interests, topics and passions that resonated with me. Many became good friends.

It gave me a voice and they started to listen. My spelling wasn’t perfect and sometimes the grammar police turned up to my blog. I pressed on. I learnt what they liked and what touched their hearts and minds. The experience has been a fascination of feedback, challenges and emerging technologies. I was curious… and I still am.

Selfies, Vanity or Creativity

So…do you play to see how many friends you can attract? Is social media a tool for growth or vanity? Does the “selfie” make us look like a culture of self absorbed narcissists or is there a larger opportunity for growth and expressing your creativity and passion?

Here is my take, which was published in the New York Times.

Everyone Has a Voice, Everyone Is Judged

Many believe that the social Web is only used for online attention seeking, leading to a vain, pointless and shallow existence. But in fact it’s having an opposite effect.

We are seeing the democratization of publishing that allows us to express our ideas, insights and creativity for free, whether on a blog, or in a Facebook post or YouTube video. These platforms allow freedom of expression for anyone who has the time, passion and persistence.

Jeff Bullas published in the New York Times

The social Web allows us to receive a response in real time to our voice. This interaction challenges us to grow and learn from an observant and sometimes critical global audience that has similar interests and pursuits. This feedback loop may look like narcissism but in fact it is a means for growth that challenges and changes the creator as readers and viewers comment and interact.

Far from creating narcissists, it makes us stronger, teaching us how to take praise as well as criticism. Authors don’t have to wait any longer for permission to publish by traditional mass media publishers and gatekeepers. They can launch a blog, write an e-book and self-publish on Amazon. The reviews and sales figures are a measurement of people’s interest and opinions. They can either reward or dampen your hard work. 

Musicians don’t have to beg a producer for a recording contract. They can upload a YouTube video. Their community and listeners vote with views. Photographers and artists can publish their media and art to Pinterest, Facebook or Google Plus. They can share it on Twitter. Followers vote with retweets, shares and comments.

Not getting enough attention?

It means you need to try a little harder. Success is not about genius but about doing the work with focused passionate persistence. This social media feedback and attention seeking is not leading to an explosion of narcissism. It is ushering in a new age of human creativity.

What’s narcissistic about that?

Want to read more about the debate in the New York Times?

What about you?

Is social media only for narcissists or has it just given them a platform? Has social media been an engine of personal growth and change or is it just a marketing tool?

Look forward to reading your insights and experiences in the comments below.



  • Gordon Simmons

    Obliquely related, this month’s Nat’l Geo is all about how photography can change the world. The ubiquity of cell phone cameras is changing our world for sure. Social media is closely related to the way we use our phones. It’s not all narcissism IMHO. Nat’l Geo highlighted how citizens with camera phones were the only way we could see what was happening as police hunted for the Boston Marathon bombers. The recent outage of hosting servers in Utah is another example of people getting real, useful info. Twitter was used to keep customers updated when their servers went down.

  • Adam Franklin

    Hi Jeff, I love this article and your piece on NY Times (congrats by the way).

    I like your argument that publishing on the web (whether long form blogs or shorter Facebook or Twitter updates) is not simply a vain, narcissistic exercise, but one where the feedback actually foster our growth.

    In my personal experience, I see some narcissists get a ‘spray’ on Facebook if they cross the line of humility and become braggards and show-ponies. This pulls them back into line!

    I also find publishing photos on Instagram helps me improve the quality of my photography, and certainly blogging has raised the quality of my writing.

    Putting your work out for the world to see (and judge) is a confronting thing! And it definitely forces us to get stronger and better 😉

    • Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Adam for the comment and kind words. It is indeed confronting to put your ideas on display. Many wait to be perfect and never start. Better to try than to never begin.

  • GhostbloggerMarie

    Selfies – GREAT new word and great way to describe this phenomena. I wonder this – are we the best judges of our own narcissistic behavior? By definition we are not. I have noticed another phenomena as a result of social media – fear of stating an opinion without a “back door” to escape actually stating a strong opinion masquerading as politeness, but is really political correctness. Um, not that there’s anything wrong with PC, no, certainly not….and politeness is good, very, very good….preferred over stating an unequivocal opinion….maybe….

  • Franchise Marketing Group

    Great article Jeff, I really like the fact that you are looking at this from two views. Depending on how a person uses and reacts to comments and posts changes how they view the social platform. It has pros and cons but so does every other form of media. Its learning how to use it right and I believe we are all still doing that.

  • Jeff Bullas

    Thanks Katherine for your compliment. Just the activity of being willing to be vulnerable by publishing online will lead to personal growth. It sounds like that has happened for you. :)

  • Jeff Bullas

    Well, I had to attribute the source! :)

  • Jeff Bullas

    Thanks for the comment and your insights. Social media is just another platform for expression. It provides us access to a global audience so its reach and velocity are unprecedented.
    Also in one sense we are all narcissists as just about everyone I know likes attention. It is just the degree.

  • Jeff Bullas

    Thanks Adam for your comments. It is exciting times!