Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

The devil comes in many forms: Al Pacino, Crème Eggs, a red guy with a pitchfork, Facebook… Satan definitely got us with that last one: “Hey y’all, come on and join this awesome cult group where you get to connect, discover, share and express.” And being the narcissists that we are, it didn’t take much for ol’ Beelzebubba to pitch a platform that allows us to plaster our personality all over the internet. Candy to a baby.

The thing with Narcissus is that his self-love killed him. Exceptionally proud and disdainful of those who loved him, Mr Handsome was lured to a pool by Nemesis (the Greek goddess of divine retribution) and upon seeing his reflection in the water, fell in love with it. Big mistake. Huge. Unable to prise his gaze away from his own glorious face and mortified by the anti-climax of a much diluted first kiss, Narcissus bade farewell to the world and gave his life over to the sanctuary of the watery depths. So, lessons to take note of: 1) karma’s a bitch, 2)never venture too close to deep water if you’re depressed, 3) egocentricity is the making of tragedy. Sadly, the caution preached by the Ancient Greeks never really caught on and if Narcissus is anything to go by, modern man is in for a reckoning.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. So what if Facebook is a shameless exertion of identity on the world? Why not? We all want to be known, remembered, acknowledged. Is this really so bad? Facebook listens to our stories and validates who we are or, more probably, who we want others to think we are – either way, the sympathetic ear for which we yearn comes at a price; if we choose to vocalise our lives on social media are we not then called on not only tolerate but accept all of the bragging, splurging, opinions, incessant over-share, image crafting, cryptic phrasing and attention laundering that goes on (and yes, Candy Crush requests, too)? After all, the 794 people on whom we inflict our status updates are all friends anyway. They like us. We like them. Right?

Most of us are capable of recognising our own ego and the way it chooses to present itself. The question is: what do we do about it?

Except remember that whole thing about the devil convincing us that he isn’t real, and this being his most noteworthy accomplishment (snake? apple? what apple?)? Like: Facebook is not a threat and worshiping at the altar of the selfie you took, edited and posted in one-minute-twenty-three-seconds (your own personal best) is not the makings of death à la Dorian Gray?

According to recent research by Cambridge University, Facebook is more adept at articulating the character of its users than their own families, thanks to some nifty new software that predicts human personality types by analysing the digital footprint left by Facebook ‘likes’. Because it’s much easier to admit who you are when you’re not faced with the scrutiny of a dynamic, thinking mind, isn’t it? Let’s be honest, the mask offered by a cyber-identity is pretty comfortable – it’s easy to state an idea or pose a world view without the interjection of a spontaneous response. It’s convenient. It’s liberating. It’s also bullshit; the kind that smells like ‘cop-out’.

But don’t we already know all of this? Most of us are capable of recognising our own ego and the way it chooses to present itself. The question is: what do we do about it? It’s a conundrum for the Facebook user who is consistently wrenched into the throes of conflict by a quest for integrity and the unavoidable shenanigans of a temperamental ego; what is the ethical response to a self-analytic awareness of narcissistic tendencies? What does one do about the thing that incites such ego mania? The obvious answer is to quit – ditch Facebook and while you’re at it, dig yourself a hole and climb in it because every time you move or speak you are exerting your sense of self onto the world at large. It’s an extremism that is philosophically hypocritical, so we do the next best thing; we try to be rational and reasonable in our interactions with the world and its social media god.

Facebook is given life by the way in which we wield it, how we perceive it and how we react to it. It’s like the vampire that needs to be ‘invited in’ in order to brandish power and exert impact. The challenge is to use Facebook with the honesty afforded by the detachment of perspective; without inviting it in, in other words, and in so doing we will learn to look at our own reflection without fetish in our eye, all the while hoping that Narcissus is the exception, not the rule.

 

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