When Social Media Becomes an Ego Machine

social-media-ego-originalDirk Hoyer, lecturer at the Tallinn Baltic Film and Media School and internationally award-winning filmmaker, is a firm believer that social media users are, to some extent, narcissistic. He calls social media an “ego machine.”

There is no denying it- social media is everywhere, and people are producing and consuming content more than ever before. According to Hoyer, the power of machines is something that we like to ignore. He says that the perspective is always in the short term, reflecting on the present situation and also where this device is going to take us. “We are losing, in some ways, what it does to our identity,” Hoyer says.

Hoyer shared his ideas during a UW-Milwaukee lecture entitled, “The ‘Self’ in Social Networks: The New Narcissism. Redefining the ‘social’ and the rise of the post-individualism” at the Hefter Conference center on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Facebook users alone share 2.5 billion pieces of content per day, according to Steve Hasker, President of Global Product Leadership for Nielsen.

“The power of the machine has added a new dimension. It can become a self-fulfilling process,” Hoyer says. “This ego machine is actually a mixture of technology and we are formatted to adapt to that.”

Hoyer compares the future effects of technology to how Lewis Mumford saw the influence of the clock in the 14th century. Mumford’s research describes the influence of the invention of the clock on the perception of time. Mumford found that there is a hidden effect in technology.

“If we’re talking about social networks, it is still a relatively new medium and we still do not know the effects yet- much like the clock,” says Hoyer.

Hoyer believes that a social relationship is more of a thing. He references The Innovation of Loneliness video on Facebook and talks about the high pressured- demands of obtaining a high number of virtual “friends.”

“The average Facebook user has at least 600 friends,” Hoyer says, “If you have under 100 friends, you are an outcast or a psychopath or something.”

During his presentation, Hoyer divides Digital Identity into four categories: Subjectivity, Interpassivity, The Time Dilemma, and Connection versus Conjunction. One of the problems Hoyer highlights in Subjectivity is this whole question of how it is possible to actually relate to other people.

“What is the real identity all about if the digital identity has become what it’s about?” Hoyer says. He believes it has become more and more complicated because the idea is that this void of imagination is the absence of culture.

For Interpassivity, Hoyer references a trend seen all over the world- the infamous walking tourist with a camera. He talks about tourists with their cameras walking around with great photos and a great experience; but all that is, is an experience that is worth a great experience.

“You can ask someone, ‘Do you really think you are experiencing the city by using your telephone?’” Hoyer says, “There is a certain awareness, even, that it is absurd, but still everyone does it.”

He quotes writer and theorist, Neil Postman, saying, “Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.”

Hoyer opens up The Time Dilemma with a quote from writer William Morris, saying, “A man must have time for serious thought, for imagination, for dreaming even, or the race of men will inevitably worsen.” According to Hoyer, we are not able to develop alternatives because we cannot dream or imagine.

In regards to Connection versus Conjunction, Hoyer explains the distinct difference between the two.  He says that what we have is this idea of connection that is obviously something; two different poles are being connected in a very planned, mathematical way.

Conjunction is something more complicated. The idea of conjunction is that there is this unplanned moment of unplanned human encounter, and that doesn’t happen in something that is preprogrammed in something, that is, social networks.

Hoyer’s relatable example of this is being sent a friendship proposal from an old classmate. The problem is, after that, all of the interaction is becoming a formative one. The surprise is not a surprise anymore. In a way, we are becoming more and more sensitive to the cold because otherwise we are not able to communicate efficiently.

Some of the analysis seen in The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch is even more relevant today than when the book was written in 1979, according to Hoyer. Hoyer refers to Facebook as a mirror, saying, “In this age where there is the idea that you’re… actually just helpless, in some ways, the narcissism is also a retreat into this mirror effect.”

He then went on to talk about how Freud defined narcissism; not how the Greek myth does. Freud expanded it as love of the self, the love of people that used to be important to oneself, and the love of something that one would like to be; not me myself and I, but others related to me myself and I.

“One of my students has the idea that to talk to somebody for an hour or two is something that is a special privilege she gives to only a few people,” Hoyer says. Any kind of direct meeting has too many unpredictable elements.

Hoyer describes that it is, in some ways, a loss of control. This is the reason it can be scary to talk to people in an unprofessional environment. Hoyer concluded with a statement that wraps up what he believes society has become: “In short, we have ‘public’ spaces without public spheres.”