In a study this week destined to blow the mind of exactly nobody, researchers came today to a thoroughly non-startling conclusion: As reported by ShockMD (just take a second to savor the irony there), researchers compared people's real-life traits to their behavior on Facebook and found that those with the lowest self-esteem were usually the most vigorous self-promoters. And while that will come as a surprise to few, it does once again raise interesting questions about the nature of social media and our society's tendency to be relentlessly self-involved -- not that that's a bad thing.
Just for posterity, let's acknowledge up-front that it's not like nobody's commented on this question before -- in fact, it's a discussion that's coming perilously close to getting more driven-into-the-ground than a Napoleon Dynamite reference. Yeah, okay: Like every single thing in the history of everything, social networking can be both good and bad, and better for some than others. In the case of Facebook, it can be a vehicle to promote things that are truly interesting, and it can also be an avenue toward compulsive self-validation seeking. Interestingly, though, the thing nobody seems to have asked is, what if it's both at the same time?
Let's consider a couple of case studies: First, there's Kanye West, who, after years of resistance, suddenly discovered Twitter and took to it like a fat man in a teeter-totter contest, going from zero to one tweet per 15 minutes almost immediately. And he's awesome at it. What makes West compelling is that he's self-aware enough of his own narcissism to play it up -- often to hilarious results; now with some 800,000 following, West is himself following only one person, some random kid from England, and as for his actual content, it's unremittingly asinine (Here's a recent one: "Some people are masters of stretching convos out way to long. I'm notorious for just not responding to that 5th email!!! lol") but somehow still kind of clever. He revels in his ego-saturated image while subtly and simultaneously poking fun at it, and you know what? It's entertaining as hell.
On the opposite end of that spectrum, there's the reclusive J.D. Salinger, who, after writing some of the hands-down greatest literature of the 20th century, disappeared completely at the height of his career in 1965 and never published again before he died last year -- then, in a massive "fuck you" to everyone who loved him, ordered upon his death that the pile of manuscripts he'd been accumulating over the years never be published -- which, in the event somebody publishes them anyway, will make anyone who reads them (and I'll certainly be one) really guilty about it.
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Now, you tell me: Of those two, who's the sick one?
The thing all creative people have in common is a need for attention -- West gets it by interrupting Taylor Swift; Salinger got it, in his own way, by withholding his gift from the people who wanted it most. It's a healthy need, and the healthy way to deal with it is to produce and put it out there. It's absolutely natural for people who make things to want to showcase those things, and while there's no question that sometimes that need can reach unhealthy levels (and can definitely get pretty tedious coming from some), it's still a need that's inherent to creative output -- which, ultimately, is what brings the rest of society new and awesome things. Social networking is just another way to get it out there.
That said (get ready for an appallingly shameless plug), we at Show and Tell are no different; we're pathetic and needy, too, and we're also pretty narcissistic. So follow us on Facebook and Twitter! We promise to be at least as self-aware of our fragile egos as Kanye West.