09 September 2012

SxD & narcissism

Benjamin Philips breaks out the psychoanalytic theory to consider what drives us in using social media.

The truly fascinating aspect of this turn toward the Social Enterprise is how commercial social influence measurement technology becomes an almost satirical expression of what is known in psychoanalysis as a “Pathologically Narcissistic” personality.
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Salesforce.com, Hubspot, and others on the cutting edge of the Inbound Marketing industry regularly produce infographics and blog posts advising potential customers and advocates what time of day to tweet, how often, how many characters the content should consume, how it should be organized, and so on. Imagine (before it is reality) this process transposed onto any other social environment: you are at a party, trying to elicit the interest of a potential sex-partner, and you consult an infographic describing exactly what to say, to whom, when, and how long to talk. You have an objective score that updates in near real-time representing your success-rate, which you can compare to past performance. The idea strikes us as entirely artificial and bizarre, a sort of “Brave New World” meets “Degrassi Junior High” pastiche.

I cannot help but think that this somehow relates to the way that a certain narcissism is rewarded — culturally and materially — by the tech industry. This is much commented upon in the emergence of people who are Internet Famous for various reasons, but it runs deeper than that. You can see it in many people who are celebratory of the culture of Silicon Valley startups, as well. You can see it in the mythology of CEO as Hero.

You can see that among designers like me. I often say that an interaction designer needs to acheive Buddhist enlightenment in order to do their job. A designer must at once arrogate to themselves good judgment about what people need, but also set aside their own proclivities and instead attend to what users different from them want and like. A designer must have passionate certainty about their solution, while also being prepared to release their attachment to it when they get new information which calls that solution into question. That seems to echo the psychoanalytic sense of narcissism that Phillips describes.

I know that sounds like a knock agains the culture of the industry, but I don't mean it that way. (At least, not only that way.) Steve Jobs provides the classic example of how narcissim yoked to talent can act as a powerfully positive force, especially in tech.

1 comment:

T. Thorn Coyle said...

I knew you would like that piece!

I just left a really long comment at his blog which you may find interesting.