Narcissism is a tricky game on today’s Internet.
Being narcissistic can sometimes have an advantage. The influencers I follow on Instagram seem to do great with selfies. YouTube stars get famous by creating videos where they basically say “hey guys, here is some stuff that happened to me today”. Some of the most inane, self-indulgent tweetstorms drive up the audiences of the Silicon Valley commentariate.
Narcissism drives both the production and consumption of Internet content.
More than 80% of LinkedIn profile views are from the owner of that profile, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the same is true for Instagram and Twitter.
Human beings love mirrors. We love any reflective surface. We are all narcissists, and there is no denying that. But we must remember that Narcissus is a Greek character who became so obsessed with his own self-image that he killed himself.
Online public narcissism has a cost. For example, online dating profiles full of selfies get fewer dates than profiles full of pictures taken by other people.
When I stand in front of a mirror, there is a lot that I don’t like about what is in front of me. I see imperfections in my flesh and in my attitude. But I don’t get entranced, because I know that the only way that the reflection will improve is if I get on with my day.
The Internet is full of mirrors, but they operate differently than the one in my bathroom.
On the Internet, every mirror you look at filters out the bad stuff. The modern Internet is full of pit traps that beckon endlessly to our narcissism.
How do we cope with a world that tries to indulge us with a fake reflection all day long? How do we avoid becoming like Narcissus, and frittering away our day staring at ourselves?
Robert Greene examines narcissism in "The Laws of Human Nature": “You can recognize deep narcissists by the following behavior patterns: If they are ever insulted or challenged, they have no defense, nothing internal to soothe them or validate their worth. They generally react with great rage, thirsting for vengeance, full of a sense of righteousness. This is the only way they know how to assuage their insecurities.”
Everyone gets challenged. Everyone gets beaten down at some point in their lives. When we are at our lowest point, we search for some kind of reassurance. We feel like a child looking for their mother. We just need something to latch onto to comfort us in the moment of acute pain.
In this moment of pain, we don’t always have someone else to turn to for comfort. We don’t all have reliable friends and family. Many of us are adrift on the sea of the Internet, always connected to each other, yet never really connected with each other.
What can we turn to when we cannot turn to someone else?
When we are having a hard time, we can turn to what we have accumulated over our lives, and be able to feel a sense of pride.
Time which is elapsed in achievement is not reversed in failure. This is why so many people strive for tangible achievement: because it is the ultimate insurance against our inevitable failures.
It is easier to bounce back from a low point in life if we have an artifact of our past success to console us. The more creative you are, the more of these artifacts you have generated over the course of your life.
If you are reading this, you are probably a creative person. It’s a random blog post on the Internet that has no reason to surface for you unless you have given the Internet a very specific set of signals that you are interested in content like this.
You are a creator, and when creators need to indulge their narcissism, they don’t visit their profile pages. They revisit their greatest creations. They marvel at the things that they have built.
When you feel bad, walk through the museum of your own past creativity.
Console yourself with the fact that you have made great things before, and you can do so again in the future. Look back even further, and realize that the things you have been making have been getting better with time. Realize that you have felt this bad before, and it turned out that it wasn’t the end of the world. You bounced back. You made new art, and it was better than anything you had done previously.
If you can pull yourself off the floor, that trend will continue. And how cool will it be when you have something even better to look at that is the product of your own brilliance?
When you are feeling bad, you must be able to feed your narcissism--but you have to be careful what to feed it. Your profile page is the Cheeto of narcissism: a low-calorie crimple with no nutrition. Your past works of creativity are the nourishment you need to renew your spirit.
Creativity drives happiness. We must create, in order to reinforce ourselves against the worst moments in life.
When we create alone, we can gain a cocoon that protects us. And when we create with other people, we can reinforce the cocoons of each other. When our creativity works in tandem with each other, we are building a steel-reinforced shelter that can shield us from a tornado.
On the Internet, many of us do not create together. We have learned to create by ourselves. It’s faster that way. And if we are honest with ourselves, creating alone leads to faster self-gratification.
To do our best work, we must learn to work with other people. Collaboration gives our creativity a new dimension. Collaboration can give us finer works of art, and make us happier individuals. Working together can give us shared experiences and common bonds.
That is why I created FindCollabs. FindCollabs is a place to find collaborators and build projects on the Internet.
We have wonderful tools for creating art with computers. Why is so little of this art created collaboratively?
Why are so many blog posts written by only one person? Why isn’t there more pair programming in the open source software world? Why are so many popular songs produced by only a single electronic music producer?
So many of us are working in isolation. Maybe it is because we don’t have the right tools. Maybe it is because we don’t have the right norms. Maybe it is simply human nature.
FindCollabs tries to strike a healthy balance between narcissism and modesty.
Working on side projects has brought me deep satisfaction in my life. If I can wake up every day and work on cool things that exercise my creative muscles, I will be happy. But if I do it alone, I will lose my empathy and produce worse art.
FindCollabs was built to solve my own problem. If that problem resonates with you, I hope you will check it out and post your own projects!