August 26, 2009

Aren’t we all a little narcissistic and Internet addicted?

New study doesn’t distinguish between flaws and healthy behavior

David SparkI‘ve long believed that the Internet exists solely because of our ego. Everything we do publicly online is an effort to be acknowledged. This week, two stories pointed out the frighteningly obvious: That students who use social networks are narcissistic and that a center for Internet addiction has opened up in Washington.

Please researchers, enough with the leading questions

Girl in front of mirrorThe first story should be filed under the category of “Trees are made of wood and other stuff we already knew that didn’t require the expense of a university’s resources.” Regardless, bringing up the issue of what motivates students to use social networks makes us all realize why we’re using the Internet. And that’s to be acknowledged and to get recognized. The problem is the study lumped in divergent traits – narcissism, self-promotion, and attention-seeking – as being synonymous. Self-promotion and narcissism are two very different things. Nobody seeks or admires someone who is narcissistic, but we admire people who effectively and non-offensively self-promote.

The study created many leading questions which has been a chronic irritation I’ve had with organizations such as Forrester and IDC that conduct social media research (Read “Social media research is chock full of leading questions”). In my critique, IDC asked leading questions as to what advertising people would be willing to see online and Forrester asked leading questions about trusting corporate blogs. No one “wants” to see ads and the brand of “corporate blogs” is like that of a “used car salesman.” No one wants either, but we use both.

We have stereotypes, and in the cases I pointed out, research firms are just confirming existing stereotypes. They’re not revealing how one goes around the stereotype or what formed the stereotype. In the case of the “students that social network are narcissistic” study, it’s not revealing. We all knew the results before the study was even conducted. What would have been more interesting is asking people to dig further.

  • Why do you feel the need to self-promote using social networks?
  • Would you self-promote if you didn’t have a social network at your disposal?
  • Do you consider yourself as attention-seeking or narcissistic?
  • What about your friends? Do you feel that some are truly narcissistic or are they just healthy self-promoters?

That’s the story we really need to know. Don’t give us the lazy leading question answer we already know, but investigate. Take what we know and reveal to us something we don’t know. What’s truly a flaw and what’s actually healthy behavior?

How do you manage your Internet Addiction Disorder?

Then there’s the story this week of the Internet Addiction Disorder center, reSTART, that opened up here in the U.S. Upon reading the story, many of us laughed, mocking the people who are diagnosed as “Internet addicted.” But once you actually start reading the nine questions to determine if you are truly Internet addicted, you realize that many of those statements pertain to you. Just look at the first two:

  1. Have a strong desire or impulse to use the Internet.
  2. Decreasing or stopping of the Internet leads to withdrawal symptoms.

I can’t think of one person those two statements don’t apply to. If that’s the case, we’re all Internet addicted. But then again, I think we’re also addicted to our phones, television, and reading.

These studies were so popular this week because they all made us question our own behaviors. Don’t you feel a little self-centered or maybe even narcissistic when you’re on a social network? And have you ever been on a vacation yet were still eager to check your email? Did you question your own behavior when you saw these stories? Did you question the research and the results of the social networking/narcissism story?

Discussing Internet addiction and social networking narcissism with Curtis Sliwa on WABC Radio

Curtis Sliwa on WABC Radio

Curtis Sliwa on WABC Radio

Last night I discussed these topics with radio personality and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, host of a very popular late night radio program on WABC Radio. He joked that his phone screener, Goldbrick, was heavily addicted to the Internet and was shotgunning Redbulls just to stay awake so he could stay online longer. Listen to or download the funny and engaging 13-minute conversation.

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David Spark, a partner in Socialmedia.biz, helps businesses grow by developing thought leadership through storytelling and covering live events. Contact David by email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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  • I too am so fed up with lame studies that we already know the answers to. Many times I hear stories like, “It has been found that individuals who suffer from obesity are also prone to overeating.” Duh! I have to sift through the “obvious” studies to find those that actually offer information that is of any value.