The Narcissism Thread

Min Bannister

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#1
You're so vain, you probably think this thread is about you..

There has been some discussion on other threads about narcissism and its increase in recent years and I find it a very interesting topic and well worth its own thread.

Note that very few people actually have a narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic tendencies are much more to do with being more inward looking and individualistic. In fact many people might think these are good things but as with so many other things, it has its bad side. Mainly, er, being more individualistic and inward looking and not really caring so much about other people. It also causes a great deal of anxiety as the narcissist spends a great deal of time worrying about what other people think and how they come across to them, even if it isn't all that obvious on the surface. (Cf social media and the amount of time people spend perfecting their selfies and curating their online lives to look as perfect as possible.) Note also that if you worry a lot about what other people think, it doesn't make you a narcissist! It is more complicated than that and I will add some links with definitions etc when I find some good ones.

Think that this only applies to young people? Absolutely not. This has been increasing for over 100 years. How did we get from the people who went onto the front line of WW1 to snowflakes? There is a graduation in between and those selfie addicts that populate the internet are products of a machine which has encouraged narcissism over many decades and which will require more thought and another post to even begin to cover!

In other words, It's Complicated but very interesting and I will be interested to hear other peoples thoughts and perhaps even be able to correct some assumptions on this subject. Although I am not an expert I sure had mine corrected when I started reading about it!
 

Min Bannister

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#2
Here is the wikipedia link. It mainly talks about it as a pathological condition but also mentions the book I keep going on about. Here is the wikipedia page about it. It is American but it rang very true for us in the UK as well. In the book, narcissism is not presented as a sort of personal failing (the youth of today blah blah!) but as a natural consequence of a society that encourages individual success and pursuit of material wealth. So something which we have really been conditioned into thinking is good and right has actually lead to this.
 

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#3
That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognised an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners. - G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

Man lost faith in Mankind and the 'great truths' / 'grand narratives' it had built up over the centuries (be they religion, art, philosophy, music, whatever). They were shredded by modern history, unspeakable inhumanity, cynicism, mechanisation, cupidity, materialism and exploitation at the hands of our masters. So discredited had these monoliths become that any 'small truths' and consolations they might have contained ('the rattle of pebbles on the shore / beneath the receding wave') were pretty much destroyed with them -- and then there was none to draw upon.

Now, as a result, we have a lot of discontented people, ill-equipped psychologically and intellectually to seek personal solace in beauty or nature or other people. In desperation, they flail around after material possessions, fleeting pleasures of the flesh and political religious-substitutes (Lord save us from 'movements' and '-isms'). Looking inward and finding themselves, ultimately, hollow, they project themselves outward constantly like a radio stuck on broadcast, unable to receive; a man is but a shard of Mankind, and a whole cannot be constructed from a part. Inner peace - or at least a tolerable modus vivendi - can only be found by taking from without to place within.

I'm no better than them, but I think I've started to see.
 
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Min Bannister

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#4
Now, as a result, we have a lot of discontented people, ill-equipped psychologically and intellectually to seek personal solace in beauty or nature or other people. In desperation, they flail around after material possessions, fleeting pleasures of the flesh and political religious-substitutes (Lord save us from 'movements' and '-isms'). Looking inward and finding themselves, ultimately, hollow, they project themselves outward constantly like a radio stuck on broadcast, unable to receive; a man is but a shard of Mankind, and a whole cannot be constructed from a part. Inner peace - or at least a tolerable modus vivendi - can only be found by taking from without to place within.
That seems to be very much the case. I was quite shocked recently (though not really) to find that children may now need mindfulness lessons in order to get through the school day. I am left feeling that something really has gone wrong somewhere.

I also think that this very interesting thread
on "eastern" versus "western" viewpoints and being able to see things from another persons point of view fits in.
 

JamesWhitehead

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#5
Mindfulness is another panacea brought into schools by managers keen to purchase snake-oil solutions to pseudo-problems as a diversion from the real ones they just cannot face. :rolleyes:
 

Moth In Relay

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#6
(Cf social media and the amount of time people spend perfecting their selfies and curating their online lives to look as perfect as possible.)
Is there evidence for a rise in narcissism which excludes the new technologies of social media? We can't do the control experiment and go back a hundred years and give everyone the same social media we have, if we could who's to say that they wouldn't use it in the same self-focused ways we do? Selfies seem like human-nature-meets-technology to me (I took selfies with a camera, back in the day), rather than being a sign of a new psychological malaise.
 

Min Bannister

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#7
Is there evidence for a rise in narcissism which excludes the new technologies of social media? We can't do the control experiment and go back a hundred years and give everyone the same social media we have, if we could who's to say that they wouldn't use it in the same self-focused ways we do? Selfies seem like human-nature-meets-technology to me (I took selfies with a camera, back in the day), rather than being a sign of a new psychological malaise.
Oh yes absolutely. The book I mentioned above was written in the 1970's, well before social media. I just used it as a modern example, the sort that people use to show that narcissism is on the rise now when in fact it has been on the rise for many decades.
 

Mythopoeika

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#8
Is there evidence for a rise in narcissism which excludes the new technologies of social media? We can't do the control experiment and go back a hundred years and give everyone the same social media we have, if we could who's to say that they wouldn't use it in the same self-focused ways we do? Selfies seem like human-nature-meets-technology to me (I took selfies with a camera, back in the day), rather than being a sign of a new psychological malaise.
I think the narcissism was always there, latent. The new social media and mobile phone technology just enabled them to express it openly.
 

Moth In Relay

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#9
Oh yes absolutely. The book I mentioned above was written in the 1970's, well before social media. I just used it as a modern example, the sort that people use to show that narcissism is on the rise now when in fact it has been on the rise for many decades.
Thanks! I remember the panics over the (so-called) "me decade" of the 80s, interesting if the worries over narcissism date back (at least) to the 70s.
 

Min Bannister

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#10
Mindfulness is another panacea brought into schools by managers keen to purchase snake-oil solutions to pseudo-problems as a diversion from the real ones they just cannot face. :rolleyes:
The rise in management and particularly middle management appears to be another cause/symptom. Lasch points to the decline in academic subjects at uni and links it to the increased competition in university sport. Universities began trying to attract students on the basis of their sporting prowess and less on their brainpower. They need to dumb down the courses but they also need to start employing people to curate these extra students and look after them as they were never really cut out to be at uni in the first place. Eventually you get to the point where universities are employing large numbers of people just to look after the students psychological welfare and students are increasingly needing their psychological needs catered for. Masses of cash is needed to employ them so universities need to take on more and more students to get the cash. And so on and so on.
 

Mythopoeika

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#11
The rise in management and particularly middle management appears to be another cause/symptom. Lasch points to the decline in academic subjects at uni and links it to the increased competition in university sport. Universities began trying to attract students on the basis of their sporting prowess and less on their brainpower. They need to dumb down the courses but they also need to start employing people to curate these extra students and look after them as they were never really cut out to be at uni in the first place. Eventually you get to the point where universities are employing large numbers of people just to look after the students psychological welfare and students are increasingly needing their psychological needs catered for. Masses of cash is needed to employ them so universities need to take on more and more students to get the cash. And so on and so on.
No wonder they're in so much trouble!
 

INT21

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#12
One good put down for people who are continually self aggrandizing and looking in the mirror is to say As a friend I really need to tell you that many people think you're boring; and your face is slightly asymmetric'.

It drives them crazy.

INT1
 

Min Bannister

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#15
Is mindfulness a bad thing in itself?
I wouldn't have thought so. I think it is more of a treatment than an actual symptom.

I don't think taking the odd selfie is that much of a problem either. Heck, I have done it. It sure seems to be pathological in some people though. I can't help wondering what effect photography has on the collective psyche. It is a relatively recent invention. Before it, Unless you were very rich you could NEVER go back and see what you looked like 5, 10, 20 years ago and perhaps compare yourself unfavourably.
 

INT21

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#16
Min,

Does mindfulness automatically lead to introspection and then introversion ?

INT21
 

INT21

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#17
...whole cannot be constructed from a part...

Surely a part is a whole unto itself as well as being a part.

INT21
 

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#18
That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognised an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners. - G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

Man lost faith in Mankind and the 'great truths' / 'grand narratives' it had built up over the centuries (be they religion, art, philosophy, music, whatever). They were shredded by modern history, unspeakable inhumanity, cynicism, mechanisation, cupidity, materialism and exploitation at the hands of our masters. So discredited had these monoliths become that any 'small truths' and consolations they might have contained ('the rattle of pebbles on the shore / beneath the receding wave') were pretty much destroyed with them -- and then there was none to draw upon.

Now, as a result, we have a lot of discontented people, ill-equipped psychologically and intellectually to seek personal solace in beauty or nature or other people. In desperation, they flail around after material possessions, fleeting pleasures of the flesh and political religious-substitutes (Lord save us from 'movements' and '-isms'). Looking inward and finding themselves, ultimately, hollow, they project themselves outward constantly like a radio stuck on broadcast, unable to receive; a man is but a shard of Mankind, and a whole cannot be constructed from a part. Inner peace - or at least a tolerable modus vivendi - can only be found by taking from without to place within.

I'm no better than them, but I think I've started to see.
While I largely agree with Yith's assessment, I would add that factors in the individual's life also play a very important role in turning him or her into a narcissist. People who were psychologically/emotionally abused as children may grow up to be narcissists in an unconscious attempt to fill the void in their own upbringing. As children they didn't receive proper emotional care and attention, so as adults they try to compensate by making themselves and their concerns the top priority no matter what effect that approach may have on others.

Two members of my family could easily have been described as narcissists. To my knowledge, neither ever received a psychiatric evaluation so I can't say that they had narcissistic personality disorder. As min_bannister has pointed out, full-blown NPD is rare. It's nevertheless reasonable to say that these two people did possess various narcissistic traits such as self-absorption, a tendency towards manipulative behaviour, the inability to empathise with the feelings of others, etc. Both individuals were born during the 1920s and both are now dead. They were therefore children and young teens during the Depression and came of age during WWII. They were part of the generation that is now often characterised as selfless, industrious and brave -- the so-called 'greatest generation.' I admit I have to suppress a gag reflex whenever I encounter that expression: while many people of that generation may have displayed these fine qualities my two family members did not, at least not when I knew them. Technology and the internet may have exacerbated the problem of narcissism in the post-WWII era but it's nothing new.

In examining what I know of the lives of these two individuals, I think it's safe to say that each of them grew up in unpleasant family situations. I suspect they experienced psychological abuse, and possibly physical abuse as well. Of course I'll never know exactly what happened to turn them into narcissists, but in piecing together bits of the puzzle over the years a picture of family tension and downright nastiness has emerged. None of that excuses their obnoxious behaviour, however. It's simply an explanation.

I'm no psychologist and am just adding my own personal observations. As I've said elsewhere on FTMB, narcissists are buggers and avoid 'em if you can.
 

Min Bannister

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#21
While I largely agree with Yith's assessment, I would add that factors in the individual's life also play a very important role in turning him or her into a narcissist. People who were psychologicmay grow up to be narcissists in an unconscious attempt to fill the void in their own upbringing. As children they didn't receive proper emotional care and attention, so as adults they try to compensate by making themselves and their concerns the top priority no matter what effect that approach may have on others.
Yes, very much agree. The Lasch book talked about parental influence and it all got a bit Freudian for me but I think what he was saying is that there is not and can never be any real substitute for parental love.

Abusive and neglectful parents can produce a child with NPD but on a societal level, a lot of state interference can result in narcissistic tendencies in the population as more and more responsibility is taken away from the parents and yet at the same time more and more pressure is put on them to be perfect. The result is that after 100 000 years ( or whatever it is) of homo sapiens successfully propagating their species, suddenly no-one is allowed to just get on with the job any more and so therefore are pretty much unable to do it without recourse to parenting books, internet forums and the state. All causing a great deal of anxiety and self-analysis for everyone. It has come about out of good intentions - looking after children. But it has had unforeseen consequences.
 

Min Bannister

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#22
A webpage on 8 ways to handle a narcissist. You can get vulnerable and grandiose narcissists apparently.

Also a quiz on how to identify narcissistic qualities in other people and perhaps even yourself! :eek:

Folks who are fun, good at things, and appear in public to be compassionate and generous often make desirable friends and life partners. They can be very enjoyable to hang out with, even if they seem a bit self-preoccupied, as if they are always taking mental selfies. Then can come the rub. Are they also good partners when it comes to talking through differences of opinion? Or is there something narcissistic about how they communicate in a relationship that's provocative?Folks who are fun, good at things, and appear in public to be compassionate and generous often make desirable friends and life partners. They can be very enjoyable to hang out with, even if they seem a bit self-preoccupied, as if they are always taking mental selfies. Then can come the rub. Are they also good partners when it comes to talking through differences of opinion? Or is there something narcissistic about how they communicate in a relationship that's provocative?
 

GingerTabby

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#23
Thank you for this, min_bannister! The advice on handling narcissists provides food for thought. My two narcissistic family members would have had very high scores on that quiz.
 

EnolaGaia

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#25
The subject has been on my mind for a long time. Here's my first crack at comments ...

I agree the construct 'narcissism', in some sense(s), resonates with the symptoms of what seems to be going wrong with the world. However, the more deeply I've delved into the subject the more convinced I become that discussions about it drift treacherously close to nonsense unless attention is given to specifying what is being scrutinized.

One of the topic's hallmarks is allusion to the Narcissus myth, while the topic's most recent / prominent focus is formal specification of a personality disorder. To my mind, these two reference points help to illustrate a critical distinction that is commonly overlooked and contributes to confusions ...

For the sake of this discussion let's say, in accordance with popular usage, that the Narcissus myth's central theme is obsessive / pathological vanity. (I need to include the popular usage qualification because there are multiple ancient variants of the Narcissus myth, and not all of them frame the story's course and / or lesson in exactly the same light.) Such pathological vanity is an issue of and for the individual per se. Such individual-centric framing is evident in the term's initial 19th century citations in psychology (in relation to sexual perversions), continuing through Freud's incorporation of the theme as something innate / intrinsic in his theory of individual development, and on through other theorists' works on (e.g.) self-esteem and values formation. The earlier of these (sexuality-related) spins on the subject definitely allude to ascribed pathology, but the later (Freud, etc.) spins often treat 'narcissism' as an innate / natural trait or phase which doesn't necessarily entail pathological consequences.

The current notion of NPD illustrates a different orientation to the subject, which AFAIK traces back only as far as Karen Horney (in psychology / psychoanalysis). This orientation focuses on interpersonal / social problems whose causes are attributed to excessive self-absorption. Except for placing the locus of causation (blame) on an individual-as-social-player and treating the problem as a socially-manifested coping strategy, this orientation more or less dispenses with the individualistic / innate / inner characteristics emphasized in earlier / other approaches. This approach starts with an ascription of pathology manifest in the social context and works backward toward blaming self-centrism in the individual context. It is therefore more socio-centric than the approach described earlier.

IMHO these are entirely distinct framings for what 'narcissism' denotes and entails - regardless of whether one sees the distinction in terms of analytical focus, contextualization of problems / pathologies, phases of theory development, etc., etc.

The strongest correspondence between these two orientations lies in the fact they both represent mind-f*cks generated and perpetuated by a profession that profits from ordinary people believing there's something demonstrably wrong with themselves.

(NOTE: I'm using mind-f*ck here in the 1960's / 1970's sense of an intrinsically unwarranted projection of a second party's explanations or accusations onto or into someone's inner / psychic workings.)

In my opinion, the latter (socio-centric; basis for NPD specification) is far and away the more 'mind-f*ck-ish' of the two. Unfortunately, I also consider it the one more relevant to the malaise we feel at how people seem to be acting ever more frequently in recent times.

The most formal product of this latter orientation (i.e., the construct 'NPD') is dangerously ambiguous - in terms of both sloppily defining what it is and failing to consistently / coherently differentiate it from the already-demonized concepts of sociopathy / psychopathy.
 

EnolaGaia

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#26
Here are some additional comments relating to historical background from the perspective of an American baby boomer. My focus is more on the run-up to 'whatever it is we perceive as increasingly narcissistic aspects of today's world' rather than (e.g.) NPD specifically. This is just my own take drawn from my own life experience, so I don't claim it generalizes ...

There have always been vain or self-absorbed people. However, the opportunities to exercise such self-aggrandizing proclivities have until recent times been pretty limited to the rich or otherwise privileged minority. Furthermore, it's only been within the last couple of centuries that ordinary folks were widely accorded any prospects beyond being expected and / or instructed to 'get with the program' (i.e., be like everyone else; do as you're told; do what your parents did). Finally, it was not until the rise of psychology (etc.) that there was widespread scholarly and personal attention directed to individuals' mental / behavioral workings, tendencies, relative degree of (ab-)normality, pathologies, etc.

Historical developments during the 20th century (most particularly the post-WWII era) resulted in a trio of synergistic breakdowns in these longstanding factors, at least in the developed nations. Increasingly ubiquitous affluence allowed 'everyman' to indulge his / her whims. Liberalism / secularism / etc. reduced or removed obstacles to 'doing own's own thing.' As psychology infiltrated society at large (e.g., pop psych; self-help stuff; etc.) there was an expanding audience paying attention to their respective individual (e.g.) feelings, desires, stresses, and behaviors.

The 1950's, a time of relatively stable growth and tranquility, were heavily infested with a presumptive conformity. Enfranchised adults were entirely free to pursue one primary objective - relative status with respect to everyone else inside a well-defined sociocultural structure. You were relegated to a cookie-cuttered set of prospects, but free to push yourself as far down that circumscribed swim lane as you wished.

The 1960's (the decade when I came of age ... ) was a time of rebellion (however chaotic or ill-guided ... ) against all that uniformity / conformity. One key element associated with that rebellion's agenda was encouraging every individual to (e.g.) 'find one's self'; 'be yourself'; 'self-actualize'; 'pursue your self's potential'; etc. A lot of folks were suddenly pressured to look inward and reflect after entire lifetimes-to-date of looking outward for their navigational / orientational bearings. Rap sessions, encounter groups, etc., became all the rage. Some folks bailed out of their lives and wandered out into the wide world in search of themselves. Free-form individualism and idiosyncrasy were transformed from virtual taboos to exalted goals.

(NOTE: It's crucial to bear in mind that at this point the emphasis was on personal liberation and exploration. It represented a response to the prior order and preparation for idealistically anticipated new lives and lifestyles, as contrasted with improving or burnishing an established life / lifestyle within a stable order.)

IMHO it was at this point things started to go awry. By the time we got into the early 1970's, this overly idealistic vision of universal self-actualization had started to produce victims and dropouts. Some folks burned out, endured too many bad experiences, or became ensnared by everyday responsibilities (e.g., marriage, work, and children) and retreated by default into traditional ways.

In my experience, a surprisingly large number of those who'd gone looking for themselves couldn't deal with what they'd found or didn't find anything at all. Some didn't or couldn't engage what they thought they'd found - especially those who'd chosen paths leading them to a confrontation with an existential void.

Others simply didn't seem to be capable of introspection at all. I can illustrate this with an example. Circa 1971 I was a member of a facilitated encounter group of circa 8 to 10 fellow college students. It was a classic T-group setting in which each of us was encouraged to expose our deepest selves to each other, engage in mutual self-examination, etc., etc. Two members of the group had to leave (one bailed out entirely; the other was shifted into individual therapy / counseling) after suffering extreme stress from the experience. The surprising reason (singular) for both their departures had nothing to do with trauma from the experiences, feelings, etc., they'd revealed, tensions with other group members, or any of the other seemingly obvious motivations. Instead, both persons completely stressed out over their professed inability to discern, much less explore / examine, their inner realms.

As we moved through the 1970's the theme / meme of self-actualization continued to proliferate, but only a small (and arguably shrinking) number of people seemed to derive any benefit from it or follow it to some transformative conclusion. Nonetheless, pretty much everyone had been directly or indirectly influenced to pay attention to themselves as central objects of concern. This residual self-centeredness, combined with increasing affluence among these emergent young adults and the coming-of-age of younger boomers who hadn't had to work through the stresses that had confronted the older ones, led to the rise of the so-called 'Me Generation' stereotype.

By the end of the decade, years of abysmal economic conditions had left all too many folks choosing to prioritize 'making a living' over 'finding myself'. Socioeconomic security and status were once again on everyone's mind, and the stage was set for a 1980's decade in which MBA's, career advancement, and generating / micro-managing children became big deals.

With respect to my generation and my timeframe, these decades and developments were (IMHO) the most important factors in setting the stage for a persistent and widespread self-concerned mindset among Americans which, taken to self-absorbed extremes, has led to whatever-it-is-we-criticize-as-narcissistic today. This outcome has been passed along to my generation's children and grandchildren.

To my mind, the sole significant change since the 1980's has been the emergence of the online domain within which any person may project this mindset to any extent they desire. The more recent arrivals of both 'social media' and mobile access have simply made it all the more convenient to broadcast one's most facile outputs worldwide, 24 / 7, from anywhere.
 

EnolaGaia

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#28
Thanks, Coal ... It's just an overgeneralized sketch made with very broad strokes. Nonetheless, the bits I included have consistently surfaced as the key elements since I first started reflecting on how folks in my particular generation / cohort mutated from 'I gotta be me' to 'I gotta get mine' during the critical period when initial teen discretionary maneuvers lead to one's mode and manner of independent adult operation.
 
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#29
Thanks, Coal ... It's just an overgeneralized sketch made with very broad strokes. Nonetheless, the bits I included have consistently surfaced as the key elements since I first started reflecting on how folks in my particular generation / cohort mutated from 'I gotta be me' to 'I gotta get mine' during the critical period when initial teen discretionary maneuvers lead to one's mode and manner of independent adult operation.
Rebelling teens are not new but until the advent of social media, one was lucky to find even a few peers who would endorse ones' views set against a whole raft of society insisting on you growing up, fitting in and settling down etc.

Social media might, I'm postulating wildly, amplify the "teen discretionary maneuvers" finding peer approval and a community that perhaps has lengthened or even changed the transition from teenage 'knee-jerk' rebellion to 'adulthood'.

When (for example) set against middle-England's definition of 'responsible adult' as being one who mortgages themselves to the hilt and then has to take all the crap an employer gives to you while smiling, it's no surprise it's all got quite lively. It's not much to look forward to.
 

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#30
Rebelling teens are not new but until the advent of social media, one was lucky to find even a few peers who would endorse ones' views set against a whole raft of society insisting on you growing up, fitting in and settling down etc. ...
Being an American teen during the 1960's was like living in a pressure cooker. The attitudes and presumptions our parents were trying to hand down to us got shredded in light of (e.g.) assassinations, long-overdue civil rights advances, war that didn't make sense, etc. It was particularly stressful for us male teens, once we understood we were subject to being summoned and dispatched to war at the whim of some distant bureaucracy. Above and beyond that was the persistent (and persistently emphasized) prospect of nuclear apocalypse any day / any time.

It wasn't difficult to identify peers with similar concerns, because we weren't scattered across countless specialized micro-realms. We were members of a single large mass of young folks thrown together in school and other social venues. The relative uniformity of our social environments (across the nation) reflected the stifling 'one size fits all' conformity of the 1950's, but it also provided a measure of common ground that's been blown away in today's networked world. This contextual / experiential common ground facilitated the emergence of a distinguishable 'youth scene / culture' that served as the platform for sharing ideas, working through issues, etc.

Social media might, I'm postulating wildly, amplify the "teen discretionary maneuvers" finding peer approval and a community that perhaps has lengthened or even changed the transition from teenage 'knee-jerk' rebellion to 'adulthood'. ...
The lengthening of the transition period is definitely a factor. There's hard demographic evidence that young folks nowadays are often lingering in the nest far longer than was acceptable back in the Olde Daze. The proportion of young folks who fail to effectively escape their nests has increased steadily during my lifetime.

IMHO the most important shift concerns the primary mode(s) of interactivity among young folks. In the 1960's it was all first-person-in-the-flesh. Now it's increasingly my-virtual-online-presence-at-arm's-length. There's a big difference between (e.g.):

- debating / projecting / defending one's views in person, in direct physical confrontation, versus
- getting away with posting a drive-by wisecrack or clicking out 'likes' in lieu of putting yourself on the line

Back in the Olde Daze everything about venues and personal interactions was 'real' by default. You had to be prepared to 'put up or shut up', face-to-face.

Nowadays, online interaction with literally / figuratively distant parties is highly virtualized, and it might as well be as fictional as (e.g.) a role playing game. You don't have to put up (in the sense of delivering on / justifying your stance), and there's nothing that can effectively shut you up. 'Getting real' has become a plaintive epithet invoked on those increasingly rare occasions when the routinely abstract suddenly has tangible consequences.

Having said that ... IMHO the online life generally and social media specifically haven't changed the range of 'teen discretionary maneuvers', but merely expanded the opportunities for talk of such maneuvers and thus pushed those maneuvers' experiential aspects into the abstract.

Talk is cheap, and it takes extraordinary action to add weight or impact to one's expressions. In the Olde Daze there were teens who committed, or at least attempted, suicide (I knew some ... ). The big change since then is that a young person can live stream his / her suicide worldwide. The act of suicide is often parsed as a cry for help, and that hasn't changed. The global broadcast of that act starts to insinuate additional overtones of 'look at me', and I wonder if this more recent gloss is related to whatever-it-is-we-criticize-as-narcissism.
 
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