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Does mobile tech breed narcissism?

Does mobile tech breed narcissism?

But enough about cultural trends. Let's talk about ME!

The cell phone wars

It's not just about teens, though. All of us who use mobile gadgets may be at risk. You're at Starbucks, and some loudmouth is standing in line blathering endlessly into a cell phone about a conversation he had with his doctor, oblivious to the annoyed customers around him. This scenario, repeated daily everywhere, is narcissism made real. The scene combines self-absorption with disregard for others. Before cell phones, everyone was forced to interact with and have some consideration for the people in the room. But the cell phone has become an enabler of narcissism in the same way that mini-bars are enablers for traveling alcoholics.

(And while we're all annoyed by cell phone chatterboxes, nobody is annoyed more than narcissists, who can't stand to hear conversations not about themselves.)

The cell phone wars express themselves in many ways. Theater, restaurant and mall owners want cell phone jammers, as do school principals. The public generally opposes the upgrading of airplanes and the rules that govern them to allow cell phone calls in flight. States nationwide are banning cell phone conversations and texting while driving.

The source of all this conflict and strife can all be traced to a little machine we all carry in our pockets that encourages us to tune out those around us and tune in to our own little worlds. Cell phones are narcissism machines.

The decline of newspapers

Everybody laments the decline of newspapers, especially among the young. All kinds of reasons are assigned to this lamentable trend, including busy lives, online content and environmental consciousness.

But news stories are almost always about other people -- you know, the kind of people narcissists don't care about. Overall, people are reading a lot more. But they're reading content that's "relevant" -- i.e. about me or that news can benefit me in some way. When there's something going on about me and my peer group, who cares about Somalia?

Could the decline in newspaper subscriptions be caused in part by the fact that we're becoming too narcissistic for news?

I want something NOW! (There's an app for that)

The biggest trend in mobile technology right now is the rise of the cell phone app, thanks mainly to the compelling selection of often free software applications on the iTunes App Store.

Apple's TV ad suggests that no matter what you want to do, " there's an app for that." Thanks to the introduction of great third-party apps, and the convenient App store, the iPhone has become a powerful psychological engine of instant gratification. Of course, other cell phones are following suit with their own stores, development kits and other initiatives to spread the phenomenon universally.

The result of always-available app stores, however, is an acceleration of the instant-gratification trend that has been building for decades.

Where are we going?

Mobile technology is global and nearly universal, and quite possibly so is the narcissism that results from it.

In China, both the biggest country in the world and the biggest cell phone market, this trend is exacerbated by the " One Child Policy" established in 1979 and continuing to this day. Because all attention in families is now showered upon a single child, narcissism has skyrocketed in that country -- a phenomenon known as " Little Emperor Syndrome."

Mobile technology, and the narcissism-inducing features that make it so compelling, are on the rise. How will this affect divorce rates, child neglect, military volunteerism, charity work and philanthropy?

What will the world be like when almost everyone is a narcissist? And what is the solution?

I don't know. But I do suspect mobile tech-induced narcissism is more of a threat than all the Wii injuries, texting mishaps and repetitive stress injuries combined.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. He blogs about the technology needs, desires and successes of mobile warriors in his Computerworld blog, The World Is My Office. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com, follow him on Twitter or his blog, The Raw Feed.


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