I think this distinction between “old” and “new” narcissism might be useful.

Christopher Lasch, in his celebrated book The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979), wrote: “The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety. He seeks not to inflict his own certainties on others but to find a meaning in life.” The guilt of the “old” narcissist might constitute nothing more than this conservative aversion to self-disclosure. The old narcissist processed his self-obsession by inflicting his certainties in a way that nonetheless left his “self” concealed: the “new” narcissist, by contrast, presents an agonised face to the world; his “self” is confessed and given over to others, leaving him free to ignore the social contract and do as he likes.

This fits with my contention that social media “confession” is a way of getting rid of the self, of expunging an accursed share of self that burdens action with anxiety and unmeetable responsibilities. (What, with “the infinite responsibility to the other,” who can ever get anything done?) Identity formation and maintaining an integrity that integrates behavior over time becomes irrelevant; identity is resolved post hoc by data processors and fed back into an individual’s behavior through the devices that keep everyone networked and responsive.

“New narcissism” is a self-centeredness that consists of selfishly discarding the self and the responsibility for controlling one’s behavior so that it appears consistent to others. Without this consistency, which is a kind of politeness that allows other people to know how to interact with you, people have to instead rely on mediation to navigate social encounters and protect them from other people’s unpredictability and boundarylessness. 

Rather than rely directly on the other person to present a coherent version of themselves — rather than count on their attentive presence in the moment, and their making a focused effort to assimilate and integrate that social interaction to an ongoing version of their self — we will rely instead on that person’s social media streams and the various algorithmic filters and processors we can selectively apply to it, to calculate what responses we might get from a person in real time. 

The new narcissism means we are giving permission to one another to treat each other like robots.

On narcissism: the mirror and the self

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