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The Bull Market in Narcissism

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The booming social media industry is obviously driven by narcissism.

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And interestingly, freshmen are least confident in their writing ability, which can actually be measured in the real world through grades and test scores.

What to make of all this?

I have my opinion. But I have to say that Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist and member of Fox News' "Medical A-Team" delivered the best analysis of this trend:

Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30% in the last thirty-odd years.

This data is not unexpected. I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents, and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities -- the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.

On Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), young people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of "friends." They can delete unflattering comments. They can block anyone who disagrees with them or pokes holes in their inflated self-esteem. They can choose to show the world only flattering, sexy, or funny photographs of themselves (dozens of albums full, by the way), "speak" in pithy short posts and publicly connect to movie stars and professional athletes and musicians they "like."

The rest of Dr. Ablow's piece is very dark and bleak. As much as I'd like to be more optimistic about the future, I get the feeling he's delivering some truth.

There's a lot of talk about Millennials leading the economy into the future.

But is "narcissists" a more fitting word?

Every generation of youth gets told it's worse than the last, but the rise of social media exhibitionism is a brand-new phenomena. If you wanted to get attention when I was a teenager, you had to go out in the real world and do it in person, which at least required something resembling courage.

These days, if you want to get a reaction from the outside world, you can do it without getting out of bed.

Just post a picture of a cupcake on Instagram or a half-naked self-portrait on Tumblr. Drop a humblebrag on Facebook about how you hate buying a new iPhone every year. Tweet a snarky comment about a Kardashian you both hate and want to be.

Boom! Likes, re-tweets, re-blogs, etc., follow -- instant evidence that you're doing something interesting.

Right?

I'm as guilty as anybody because I've fallen into this trap myself. If I can use social media to fool the outside world into thinking I'm cool, than maybe it's true.

Of course, I haven't posted any revealing self-portraits on Tumblr yet, but maybe I would if I had a better body.

Social media has benefited me personally. If it wasn't for Facebook, I wouldn't have a job I love. I like knowing what's going on in the lives of family and friends, and social media plays a big role in my primary hobby, photography.

And if for some reason I found myself in need of a new job, I'd be all over LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD).

At the same time, I bemoan that social media is inadvertently creating a branch of society that views attention-getting via social-media exhibitionism as a "fun" activity -- that actual life experiences require constant broadcasting.

A couple of years ago, I went to see my favorite musical artist, Prince, in concert at Madison Square Garden. About a quarter of the way through the show, I started taking pictures and posting them to Facebook -- just like everyone around me.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

And if you are sitting on an exotic beach, are you actually there unless you share a picture of your feet surrounded by the beautiful vista?

Yes, there is an economic side to this story. I think that social media has inadvertently harnessed the basic human need to feel important, even if that feeling is completely artificial and distorted.

This segment of the human condition has resulted in untold wealth for investors in companies like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and the boom will last a lot longer than most people suspect.

Does that mean it's time to throw all your money at Facebook to get in front of a mega-trend that may be more mega than we ever imagined? I don't know.

But I gotta say, I'm thinking about putting my money on the line because at the end of the day, there's not just a want being fulfilled here, but also a need, just like cigarettes and pharmaceuticals. And it's a high-growth need.

We don't have many of those these days -- it ain't the good old days when cholesterol and toilet paper were growth industries.

P.S. Can you do me a solid and Tweet this?

And if you want to follow me: @MichaelComeau

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