As much as the web may be an abhorrent development to 'neo-Luddites' concerned that technology has negative social and ethical impact, we would not have instant information on the latest developments across the world from people in every field from medical science to sculpture, an innovative musician or poet from one corner of the world sharing her/his work with interested parties of the rest of humanity. Even if the web is used for more efficient commerce and job seeking, that too represents a positive development, althoug neo-Luddites would argue such technology puts people out of work.
We would be deprived of instant images of both creative and socially beneficial endeavors that individuals contribute, as we would be deprived of the most precious gift the web has inadvertently made to humanity, namely cultural diffusion that is the catalyst to progress and civilization. All of these things are very positive, as the web opens minds, educates people, keeps them informed instantly. However, there is a downside to web networking and that includes everything from making crime easier to guiding the masses toward greater conformity by utilizing the narcissistic elements that appeals to millions of web networking people.
I am amazed to see that in FACEBOOK, TWITTER, FLICKR, LINKEDIN and others such networks there are people who have hundreds and some tends thousands of 'friends'. Limited to a couple of dozen or so friends, I feel deprived not to have a few hundred friends, to claim that I have 350 more 'friends' than my best fiend. Frankly, I do not know hundreds, let along thousands of people, and if I did at one point in my life, by now I have forgotten who they are as they have moved on with their web-based lives.
What does it mean that a some one on a web network page claims to have 956 'friends', many from around the world? Have people become that 'friendly' owing to the web; has human nature changed for the better that much because of TWITTER? What does it say about web networking when a person 'displaying' her/himself for 'aesthetic' purposes has thousands of 'friends' and even more followers? FACEBOOK alone has 100 million users, doing what else but engaged in narcissistic behavior and alienating themselves from actual human contact because the machine is their vehicle of communication and their new drug of choice. Where is web-culture headed and what does this mean for society?
The web did not invent the Western culture of narcissism that globalization has spread throughout the world, but it is reinforcing it for every person who has internet access. There are a few scholarly works dealing with this very new subject of how web networking is reinforcing narcissism, but I want to approach the subject not from a psychologist's perspective but from a political, social, and economic dimension to show how the culture of narcissism furthers the existing political economy and social order.
Operating on the somewhat safe assumption that all human beings are creative in some endeavor, the question is whether the vast majority of the 100 million FACEBOOK users are in the least interested in contributing something creative by using the web, or they are in essence engaged in some form of narcissism/self-interested purpose - sort of web version of Andy Warhol's 15-minutes of fame theory of the 1960s. If the latter is the case, then that is exactly where the commercial and political co-optation into the picture and web networking is reduced, for the most part, to just another instrument of the political and socioeconomic elites.
If the web can be used by 'indignant' Spaniards to stage demonstrations, it is used even more efficiently and on a mega scale by mainstream politicians (Obama in 2008) to win elections and corporations to sell everything from shoes to 'face-lifts'. Appealing to the narcissistic proclivities of the individual, politicians and corporations are best able to manipulate the average web-network user toward conformity to the system.
Given that politicians and the socioeconomic elites have the resources, they are able to capture a mass audience and to literary buy out any web network that become popular, the web is doomed to be a tool of the elites used to retain their privileges. Narcissism that web networking encourages actually helps to preserve the status quo by furthering the interests of the political and socioeconomic elites. The individual's need to feel significant in the age of mass politics, and mass culture is exactly what the web commercializes by packaging and using the user as 'valued customer whose needs businesses and politicians aim to meet'. The existential need to feel significant amid an alienating materialistic culture is the weakness of the individual web network user. This does not mean that rebels, fringe groups, fanatics of all sorts, creative and ingenious individual do not follow their own non-conformist path, but it does mean they would be a faint voice drowned in a cacophony of elites buying their way into the system.