By: Richard Coad [MDB Chief Creative Officer]
In a period of time that could only be referred to as alarmingly short, narcissism seems to have come from nowhere to officiate over all human activity. In short, we love ourselves.
The term narcissism was coined over a century ago to describe a psychological ailment: taking pleasure from oneself. Today, narcissism is becoming a way of life. Our economy runs on it. The educational system has shifted from being knowledge-based to one of living-up-to-your-potential. Parents seem to value their child's self-esteem far more than their knowledge or virtue. Technology drives narcissism (the streets are full of people who no longer look up). The world comes to them through the glow of cell phones.
In 2011, Americans spent nearly $10 billion on plastic surgery, according to an industry association. In contrast, we spent $5 billion on NASA space operations. In other words, having perfect breasts seem more important than exploring the universe.
In 2009, the book "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement," was published. In it, the authors found that among thirty-seven thousand college students, the rise of narcissistic traits from the 1980's to present was as steep as the rise in obesity. They also noted that the epidemic is mostly generational. According to a study by the National Institute of Health, 10 percent of young Americans exhibited symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, while only 3 percent of older Americans did.
One real problem is that society and narcissism, on a large scale, cannot co-exist. Theoretically, if you grouped several narcissists together in a small area and instructed them to work together as one dynamic, dysfunction would occur almost immediately. Conflict would begin at once. The result would only be the ashes of Nero's Rome.
While narcissism has its origins in ego, the two should not be confused. There are many egotistical people. Society is held together by many, balanced, healthy egos. Contemporary society encourages ego to overachieve. It also says to contribute to helping those who are less fortunate. Manyegotisticla people contribute to making the world a better place. Narcissists do not, since they are too busy paying attention to themselves.
So, then, what does this mean for advertising and advertisers?
Good news! The world is rapidly going mobile. Every one of those phones is a video screen for a message. Before long, we'll probably be able to target messages to individuals and personalize them. Just think, Bob will be walking across a busy street, staring into his cell phone, and a person appears on his phone and says, "Hi Bob! Just a little reminder from your friends at Jiffy Lube that it's time to come in for an oil change. And if you can make it today or tomorrow, you get 10% off. Have a nice day, Bob!"
A good thing, right?
Unless, of course, we heed the prophecy of the great man himself, Albert Einstein, who said, "I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”