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Posted at 11:47 AM ET, 12/15/2010

Time Person of the Year Mark Zuckerberg and the DSM -- making the world safe for narcissism

By Alexandra Petri

zuckerberg paul sakuma ap.jpg (Mark Zuckerberg - Paul Sakuma, AP)

I know why Mark Zuckerberg is Time Magazine's Person of the Year. It's not because of his achievements, although they are legion, or because of The Social Network, although it was an engaging two hours of cinema, or because of his habit of giving major press conferences in semi-tight gray t-shirts.

It's because of what he's done for us: the narcissists.

"We can't all be heroes," Will Rogers once wrote, "because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by."

Now, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, we know that's no longer true.

When I saw the announcement that Mark Zuckerberg was Time Magazine's Person of the Year, it all fell into place. No wonder they'd pick him. We're a nation of narcissists, and Mark Zuckerberg has done more to make the world safe for narcissism than anyone else on earth.

Before Facebook, there was an era when the thought never entered your mind that your friends and acquaintances would want to know that your water had just broken the moment it broke, or that you were drinking green tea, and it was AMAZING, or that you were Taking it One Day At A Time! Now this is commonplace. Forget friends. Try audience! No man is an island? That's because we're all continents.

I have to admit, I don't think I'm a very good narcissist.

You can tell immediately from that sentence. This is not the work of one of your master narcissists. Kanye West would never say a thing like that. That professional hand model who has been all over the tubes recently? She would never use her hands to type a sentence like that, but I bet she wouldn't think it, either. "He had ambitions, at one time, to become a sex maniac," Les Dawson wrote, "but he failed his practical." Replace "sex" with "ego," and that's me in a nutshell.

I do try, though. In the past week, I used well over one hundred I's, which the Arbiters of Narcissism say is a warning sign. Only one of them was math-related, and it probably wasn't real, anyway. And I admit it: I search for my own name on Google. Frequently.

If "Know Thyself" was written over the portal to the ancient world, then "Google Thyself," might be on the entrance to our own. And I've elevated it to an art form. Rembrandt painted himself. George Bernard Shaw quoted himself -- "It adds spice to my conversation," he noted. I Google myself.

But other than that, it's been an uphill battle. I was all set to date my own reflection, but it was worried I was settling.

I don't think it's inaccurate to say I have an inflated ego, but if this were the Macy's Day Grand Inflated Ego Parade, I'd be a small, sagging ego towards the back.

I tried navel-gazing, but then I stopped because True Blood was on, and I figured that someone else's navel might be more interesting.

I'm planning to invade Europe, but only a small area.

The definition of a narcissist used to be "someone better-looking than you," just as the definition of an alcoholic used to be "someone who drinks the same amount as you whom you dislike."

But I think that's changed.

Now it's "someone with more Facebook updates than you" or "someone who has more Twitter followers than you do."

The recent announcement that they were removing Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the DSM IV Statistical Manual caused quite a stir. But narcissism is no longer a disease. It's a lifestyle.

"To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance," Oscar Wilde once wrote. But this used to be a love that dared not speak its name. Self-love was a deadly sin. You were actively encouraged to shove your light under a bushel basket.

A mere 40-odd years ago, declaring that you were making the greatest album of the decade actually lost you fans! Remember when John Lennon said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus? They had to make Ringo sing in the hopes that people would be shellshocked into forgetting such a gaffe. Now it's par for the course. "I promise to give you the greatest album of the decade, just for you," Lady Gaga gushed to her Polish fans. Thanks, Gaga!

And look at Kanye West, who has more than a million followers on Twitter. "You have to balance ignorance with intellect! Can't have school with out recess! #Greatesttweetofalltime," he noted on Nov. 15th.

And this is a dynamic that the forms of social media tend increasingly to encourage. There's a reason people on Twitter are referred to as followers. The last guy to have that many followers used to refer to himself as the Son of God -- and he still only managed to attract twelve during his lifetime. And then one of them visibly unfollowed him, and it was really awkward for everyone involved.

Now, modesty is underrated almost to the point of being considered a non-adaptive trait.

"What's the point in being self-effacing? Be other-effacing instead!" our society suggests.

But just as science has found that, the more involved you are in telling a story, the less likely you are to remember who you told it to, the inability of narcissists to step outside our own perspectives for even an instant, lest we miss something, is an active handicap to our relationships.

Who needs relationships? Facebook is bringing us back to our roots. You scratch my back -- I'll scratch yours, but replace "scratch" and "back" with "like" and "status."

But as we transform into these outward-directed manifestations of apparently fascinating, endless,and divine uniqueness, we suddenly find less and less on the inside. We're like Christmas trees. All our lights and tinsel and ornaments hang on the side that faces everyone else. Diaries -- the private kind, with locks, where thoughts congeal out of silent rumination, rather than the online journal -- are becoming a lost art.

"How can I know what I think until I see what I say?" an E. M. Forster character asks. We're all like that. There is no pensive gap between the two. We discover our attitudes by presenting them to others.

But somehow we manage.

We're as self-absorbed as people without much in the way of selves can manage to be. We know less than we ever have. We lack the sort of mental furniture that used to allow people to be comfortably alone with themselves. Now our greatest fear is disconnection.

We love ourselves unconditionally, of course, because what other choice do we have? We're stuck. But just as in the classroom, students' impeccable self-esteem doesn't translate to their math ability, we find ourselves as a nation boasting about -- well, less and less. Our test scores are squarely middle-of-the-pack. "I don't know what this X stands for, so I just drew a sad mountain," we murmur, "but boy do I feel good about myself!" Our life expectancies are down. We continue saying we're exceptional -- and exceptionally excellent -- because, of course, we've always said so. But if we continue neglecting our internal gardens, that will cease to be true.

The trouble with narcissists is that they don't know how they're coming across. For people who place such a high premium on perception, it's a deeply ironic gap.

So as long as narcissism isn't a disease, maybe what we should do is encourage self-absorption -- the right kind. This is the kind of absorption that makes home owners embark on renovations and civic pride associations gussy up neighborhood parks. "Okay, we're the best!" they say. "So let's have something to show for it." This self-absorption leads to the kind of mental interior decoration that makes you feel that you are genuinely excited to be spending time with yourself. But first, it takes introspection -- something today's narcissists are notoriously lacking. What's in there? Is it worth getting excited about?

Self-knowledge? If only I could Google it.

By Alexandra Petri  | December 15, 2010; 11:47 AM ET
Categories:  Only on the Internet, Petri, Worst Things Ever  | Tags:  Facebook, The Year That Was 2010, narcissism, twitter  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: WikiLeaked Naughty and Nice List for 2010
Next: On National Cupcake Day, a word for the muffin


I don't use Facebook because 90% of the people I know that do use it are drama queens that need to be the center of attention.

I applaud the Facebook founder as he has created an alternate world for these people to feed their narcissism and nurture their little farms while the rest of us can get on in the real world without their drama.

Posted by: asdf9876 | December 15, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Good article! A little long though.
I must say the narcissist factor was what drove me away from Facebook. When I fart, I try to only tell my husband, not the whole world. Likewise, when I'm bored at work, I really don't want all of the www to know.
Conversely, I have no reason to visit other people's facebook sites, because I know what they look like, so flipping through pictures of other people gets old. It's something your friends and family force you to do when you're together.
I also don't care that they're bored at work too or want to give me virtual beads. Before Facebook, my friends would EMAIL me with interesting details of their lives not mindless blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Posted by: hebe1 | December 15, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Who reads Time magazine?

Posted by: dottydont | December 15, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Interesting how he was actually number 10 on the final poll results. Makes you wonder why TIME even bothered to ask for the reader's opinions.,28804,2028734_2029036_2029037,00.html

I'm sure they'll eventually blame 4chan or some other org for suspicion of tainting the results. I hold the belief they were afraid to publish the actual number one. TIME Journalistic integrity = 0.

Posted by: bowlasoup | December 15, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I am not on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or use any of the other social networking sites, nor do I like that whole text messaging thing and I also refuse to respond to text messages that I receive from different people. Besides, most times I can't find my cell phone, which causes me to miss a lot of calls, beeps, and chirps anyway that I ignore for the most part.

Other than that, I guess I am "old school", because I just don't get any of it, nor do I understand people's obsession with it. I don't get Facebook, I don't get Twitter, nor do I understand the need for people to send text messages every minute of the day, and at odd hours.

I guess I will always be old school and I would rather be old school than having to pretend that I have hundreds and thousands of "friends" all over the world. You know, the kinds of friends that I can really trust and depend on.

Good article little Ms. Petri.
Keep up the good work.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | December 15, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I think you paint with an awfully large brush, Ms. Petri.
And you sound a little cranky.

Posted by: pras40 | December 15, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Brilliant. How stunningly brilliant. This is the best bit of perception journalism I have read in a thousand years.

Our times are rotten. We do not know or care what real friendships are, what relationships are. We care about what appears on the internet. What flatters our image as self created.

lcarter0311 said it well: "I guess I will always be old school and I would rather be old school than having to pretend that I have hundreds and thousands of "friends" all over the world. You know, the kinds of friends that I can really trust and depend on".

I would love to damn Zuckerberg but what good would that do? It is he who is now a billionaire, and we who are dupes of a phony world of mirage and fantasy.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Posted by: tarquinis1 | December 15, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

"lcarter0311" briefly touched on the most moronic aspect of Facebook: the notion of "Friends." As if anyone using Facebook knows (or ever could or will) a tiny fraction of the names & faces listed as "friends." Twitter and its "followers" shtick is even more idiotic, but I won't go there.

Posted by: snowbird25 | December 15, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Well, if you own the whole media world, what else would you expect? Time, is an all Jewish contributors/writers/editors, magazine and in their absolute glory, they would have to select this one chosen one that nothing contributes to the wealth or well being of our society, quite the contrary, the dumbing of it. More, just take another look around to the sister publication, Fortune, they come across as an infomercial for Apple and Jobs as the new incarnation of their Einstein. I, for one, read their stuff only as background. Pretty soon, even the internet will come under their dominion as our FCC bends over to their pressure, money, and deny the rest of us Internet neutrality.

The country of the free and the brave!!

Posted by: likovid | December 15, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Amazing article! Commit Facebook suicide, your life will change...until you get to lonely and miss working on a farm while living in the city (farmvile ;)

Posted by: BurgwithaU | December 15, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Another pasty-faced, white wunderkind. Yawn.

Posted by: haveaheart | December 15, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I value my privacy too much to the Facebook or anything like it. In fact, I rarely even use a cellphone and refuse to become like some people who talk through it while sitting on the toilets in public restrooms. People are too stupid these days to realize that digital age has severely compromised their privacy.

Posted by: TalkingHead1 | December 15, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm recalling the Big Lebowski, when The Dude is waiting to see Lebowski, and he's looking over all the plaques and awards Lebowski has received... then he's staring back at himself in the Time Magazine Man of the Year mirror.

That's how Time should've handled their cover.

I wish this social media bubble we're living in would burst already.

Posted by: bikes-everywhere | December 15, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

I value my privacy too much to the Facebook or anything like it. In fact, I rarely even use a cellphone and refuse to become like some people who talk through it while sitting on the toilets in public restrooms.

Posted by: TalkingHead1 | December 15, 2010 4:30 PM


And, I am usually the one in the next stall over from them, asking them, if they are talking to me.


Posted by: lcarter0311 | December 15, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Selecting Zuckerberg as POY is a perfect metaphor for our society and our values; greatness is now defined by someone who invents (?) an internet application which celebrates narcissism and self indulgence and, then, through ruthless business practices masses a fortun hyping it as a second coming. Wall Street meets Madison Avenue!

No one is demeaning his intelligence or his drive for success but if we are comparing the development and evolution of Facebook to say, Einstein articulating the theory of relativity, or to Mandella's lifelong stand and sacrifice for human rights or even to Nixon's opening to China, we have come down a bit in the measure of true greatness and impact on our world.

As best I can determine Zuckerberg has figured out and marketed, brilliantly as it turns out, another way of Americans to waste time thinking about themselves and their petty desires and not in inventing a life changing and culturally altering new channel of communication. On the other hand, it really is a great device to ogle girls who post pictures of themself drunk and half naked!

Posted by: bobfbell | December 15, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

"I guess I am "old school", because I just don't get any of it, nor do I understand people's obsession with it. I don't get Facebook, I don't get Twitter, nor do I understand the need for people to send text messages every minute of the day, and at odd hours."

Agreed, 100%

Personally, I am pretty busy w/ work, family, chores, and real friends.

When the rare time arises that I get a couple hours to myself, I am happy to have the time alone. Why would I want to waste it updating a webpage to say I'm alone?

"When I fart, I try to only tell my husband, not the whole world."

Just blame it on the dog!

Posted by: BEEPEE | December 15, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Jee, missy, you used one correct word in all that pun-ditry, "perspective". Thanks to Zuckerberg's facebook now you get to see what it looked like from the other guy's point of view. lol.

Yes, for some, it was like he gave the microphone to a deranged fan who got on stage and started to "woo" or "un-woo" the audience with his version of the band's songs - but for some, he gave a voice to persons who had none until then to tell the truth which is stranger than fiction (you couldn't make some things up, and Hollywood isn't that creative, nor are novelists), it never happens till it happens to you. lol.

So he's done good. Provided he's given the boys and girls at Langley access to my facebook page. lol.

There are still some thieves of my work who are now my sister's facebook "friend"s who still think its my sister writing this, so they are probably trying to cash-in again by once again claiming their "friend" is the one writing this (their "friend" is my younger and only sister, not me, they have nothing to do with me - so only idiots would let them cash-in). I can see the comment on my sister's facebook page by one such woman/girl (part of the circle of thieves) filled with false statements of "friendship" (something like "why must I share you with the world????", this woman/girl is a married mother of two and my sister is heterosexual and is engaged to be married) to hide her true yearning for Western money (which her former drug addict husband, and his brother, and his former drug addict pals all got plenty of from the Indians and Europeans) - I wasn't making up stories when I said they made a criminal syndicate out here in this tiny little boonie country. lol.

Facebook allowed me to catch these people red-handed. Thank you Zuckerberg - you're the man! lol.

Posted by: darkasnight1234 | December 15, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Should Wikileaks founder Juilan Assange have won the Time Person of the Year for 2010 over Mark Zuckerberg? Why or why not? Join the conversation with others here:

Posted by: maddieent | December 15, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

What's Facebook?

Posted by: CatMan1 | December 15, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Comrades: Are we missing something here? Suckerberg developed a 'tool' which relies on access to something called the 'world wide web'. Without connectivity, Suckerberg's genius looks pretty stoopid. Why, the good old postal service provided everything lauded about in-your-Facebook, to everyone on the planet, for the price of a bit of paper and a stamp, but of course at speeds that would satisfy no one today. And, with the Suckerberg generation, the art of writing has all but vanished. A misplaced award, methinks . . .

Posted by: rep15 | December 15, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

haters...all i see are haters. why hate? facebook has been a useful tool, a delightful finals week distraction, and a major aspect of nearly every person of my graduating class of 2010. we got to college right when facebook started blowing up, and everyone was on it. now, four years later, it provides me with a nice little four year photo journey of my college experience in the southern part of the country. why do yall have to hate for the sake of hating? let us have our fun.

Posted by: NomeMike | December 15, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Ms. Petri, for a most penetrating analysis of both the award and of our age. When I first read the news of the award, the first thing that came into my mind was that there is little difference between Zuckerman and Assange -- they both celebrate narcissism. This is the age that has been brought to us by the Boomer generation, and the age that has evolved to its current state through their children and now their grandchildren.

We have finally fallen into the trap that de Touqueville warned us about so many hundreds of years ago -- individualism has become triumphant over the common good and welfare of all. Welcome to the United States of the Self!

Posted by: marmac5 | December 15, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Paul, you need a religion...urgently! Poor guy...

Posted by: Sapiando | December 15, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse


Well, at least with Facebook we have all the bores in one spot, all trying to impress each other.

A pox on Facebook, My Space, Twitter, Instant Messaging, Texting and all the rest.

Meanwhile, pay no attention to Time Magazine's annual goofiness.

Posted by: 809212876 | December 15, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

rep15 raises an interesting thought, that with Facebook and similar programs, "the art of writing has all but vanished."

Forgetting for a moment that many Facebook (and My Space, etc) members actually equate their Facebook "friends" to being real friends to who they relate, people have forgotten how to communicate, how to express ideas and thoughts because it's so easy to "rite an splain thngs to peeps that wanna kno whats hapning."

I can't fathom, for the life of me, why people need to follow people on Twitter. For example, after Michael Jackson died, did we really need to know that XXX performer or celebrity tweeted "Yeah, it's a bummer."

Of course I also can't understand why everyone walking or taking public transportation in the early morning is calling everyone they know, or texting everyone they know, or reading an unknown number of texts and e-mails, etc. Do these people really have that much to say to each other, or care that much to listen to any and everything that everyone they know finds time to pass to the world?

Maybe, just maybe, you can put down your phone, smart as it may be, put down your Blackberry, etc., and walk in a museum, or sit in Starbucks and read a book. Write a letter to grandma. Maybe even talk to the person next to you.

Or am I naive?

Posted by: Dungarees | December 15, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Incredible column, Alexandra! I'm posting this one on my Facebook wall.

The psychological definition of "narcissist" that I learned involves more than just being self-involved. The narcissist sees others as extensions of himself. That is, he doesn't respect other people's individuality.

By that definition, we Facebook users are not the narcissists. We are the objects of Mark Zuckerberg's narcissistic delusions. He has us interacting with each other only in the way he programs for us.

Facebook organizes us into cliques of people who think like us, and isolates us from those who think differently. Instead of uniting us to all work together, it is uniting "us" against "them".

We need a better Facebook program that helps us realize that, "We are not red states and blue states....we are the United States of America."

It's great to see you here under the ComPost. I've always admired your understanding of the Pakistan/Afghanistan quagmire. I've been telling everyone that Petri is the best new writer that I've ever seen, and it's nice to see someone else appreciate her.

Now, can you help me find the hidden meaning in Petri's "Cupcake day" column? I think I'm a muffin.

Posted by: divtune | December 16, 2010 1:53 AM | Report abuse

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