Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ego, Time and Digital Narcissisms

Gravitation © Jean-Pierre Alaux (1925-). Image Source: Surrealism and Visionary Art.

It is a sad comment on our times that one of today's greatest challenges is how to think and act without ego. Marketing depends on fake ego-building, and it permeates nearly everything that relates to consumption and perception and therefore, to consciousness. As one friend put it last week, "even the news reports are informercials now."  On social networks and elsewhere online, highly integrated personalized branding mobilizes our lives, our birthdays, and our friends from yesterday to deliver vast economic and political potential for new business interests. Our complacency and unconsidered vanities have made this so. Every Facebook page twists the formerly reasonable human activity of socializing into an ego broadcast. Twitter is the advertising stage for countless activists, hopeful e-novelists, gurus building their names on our well-being (or lack thereof), news-monger personalities, Kickstarter entrepreneurs, and bloggers with axes to grind ...

Prisonnière des glaces © Jean-Pierre Alaux. Image Source: AMAC.

It is the Cyber-Ego, whether it is trapped in the past, obsessed with the future, or narcissistically feeding of the present, which makes it so hard to concentrate. How do we detach the ego from the way we perceive ourselves moving through time? These two issues - ego and time - are commonly discussed separately in relation to the impact of the Technological Revolution on global cultures, but rarely as two, related concerns.

Brain Pickings recently featured Harvard psych grad student Matt Killingsworth and his TED talk about staying in the present moment in order to stay productive and happy.  The more our minds wander from the now, Killingsworth contends (here), the more aimless, miserable, and plagued by uncertainty and worry we become.  Yet that same behaviour is essential for expansive, free thinking and creativity.

And how can 'staying in the now' be a source of seamless mental health, as Killingsworth suggests, when the Web is generating a cult of presentism alongside moral disorientation and psychological addiction?  This blog has repeatedly found that the Web has diminished our natural awareness of the progression of time (which, granted, may be a fiction based on how our brains respond to our environment, but nevertheless, it is the fictional narrative central to all human experience).  The historical continuity of evidence and progression of daily life can now be manipulated digitally, so that past, present and future jumble together anachronistically.  Moreover, the perception of media-fied, digitized reality is a concern before we even get to the impact of virtual reality on the usual ways we experience time in the natural world. Are we haunted by lost memories, floundering in a 'transmedia-fied' present, or dreaming of a virtual reality future?  There are arguments advocating respect for the past, memory and tradition (see here, here, here and here) - living in the now (see here and here) - and seeking liminal doors to unknown futures (see here and here).

Maybe the issue is not 'staying in the now,' but time travel with or without ego.  Perhaps how miserable we become (in Killingsworth's terms) when our minds drift into memory or dream of the future depends on whether or not we pack our egos for the ride.

[Title?] (1994) © Jean-Pierre Alaux. Image Source: Surrealism and Visionary Art.

An upcoming academic essay collection calls for papers under the title, Exploring Digital Narcissisms; but tellingly, the call for papers neglects any connection between our changing perception of time - and our exploding Cyber-Egos:
For Freud, narcissism is the investment of libidinal energy redirected away from objects and toward the ego, whereas Lacan tells us it is a failure arising from the mirror stage precipitating a fruitless and perpetual search for the perfected image of the self. A "healthy" narcissism entails an optimal level of self-regard and esteem, whereas an "unhealthy" narcissism can lead to emotionally destructive consequences. In this way, the operative "borderline" between healthy ego formation and reactive defense of a fragile ego construct may, in fact, be more pronounced of an issue in the online environment where this struggle may find itself trans-or superimposed. 
One of the major shifts in web 2.0 has been the facilitation of more participatory content via social networking sites (SNSs) and news site fora, etc. User-generated communication, be it synchronous or asynchronous in nature, has allowed for more opportunities in the area of self-expression in the digital Umwelt. A raft of studies and popular books in the last few years have indicated a tentative connection between SNSs and an enabling function for narcissistic self-display, aggressive behaviour, and the desire to maximize social capital, particularly as endemic to the social software architecture that allows for promotionalism and self-boosterism online. In some cases, there is an argument to the effect that such online behaviours follow trends reminiscent of the clinical definition of narcissistic personality disorder such as possessing poor object relations, the social dependency versus extreme autonomic reliance paradox, aggressive and cathartic exchanges in the online venue, the fostering of shallow connections and tributary relations; and other ambient factors such as the marketization of the online ego-identity construct, the "arithmomania" of collection fetishism present in the quantifying of connections as social capital, and other issues that may arise in the tension between the Internet-mediated self and the environment in which it operates. On the more optimistic end of the debate, SNSs as a "liberation technology" are a source of facilitating niche-building, information flow, personal expression, and healthy ego development rather than pathological auto-scopophilia
We invite scholarly essays to explore the dynamism that may exist in the rise of social media with respect to changes in narcissistic behaviours and ego formation. How has the digital milieu shaped, or been shaped by, narcissisms? How does the online ego problematize the classic definitions of narcissism, in addition to making any diagnostic pronouncements on the basis of digital communication? ... Suggested topics may include, but are not limited to
  • Cyberpsychology and online ego-construction
  • Digital Ego-play and self-esteem
  • Object relations
  • The web as externalized id or mass subconscious manifestation
  • Cyberpragmatic analysis of interpersonal communication
  • Psychoanalysis of digital behaviour
  • Civilization and its (digital) discontents.
  • Approval-seeking mechanisms
Dedoublement © Jean-Pierre Alaux. Image Source: Art Odyssey.

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