Paranoid Narcissism, Anxiety, and Embodiment in a Digital Culture

There are so many different sources of anxiety. I’m anxious about you reading this post and you’re probably anxious about wasting time reading this post. This week, Mark Zuckerberg got so anxious that he called President Obama to chat about some NSA activity he didn’t particularly like.

This week, Dostoevsky has some advice for us on how not to be anxious in a digital age and Will McDavid shines some light on a religious source of our anxiety. The Other Journal has a long, thoughtful look at the importance of the body in transforming culture and The Verge has an interview deconstructing the era of Facebook and looking to where we might be headed.

If you missed it last week, we continued our Lenten reflections on technology and spirituality with a meditation on weapons of self-restraint and Brett Robinson shared his thoughts on Pope Francis’ first message for World Communications Day. Enjoy!

mark zuckerberg is anxious

Embodiment Takes Practice: The Neurological Necessity of Counter-Practices in Transforming Culture – The Other Journal

“I argue that although taking the body seriously does not render cultural transformation (or formation) impossible, it does require that one more carefully attend to practices, and what McClendon called “counter-practices,” as the necessary enablers of faithful engagement with culture. Without fostering such practices, the recommendation to live according to a different story, one that is capable of resisting the ills of late-modern capitalism, for instance, will amount to little more than a quasi-gnostic wish—and in the long run, such recommendations will be revealed as both impotent and unsustainable.”

Paranoid Narcissism: What Dostoevsky Knew About the Internet – The American Reader

“We are warned that everything we put online could destroy our careers and relationships; that Google and Amazon read our emails, and so does the NSA. And in a social context, we are constantly visible—at least potentially so—to an entire network of friends and acquaintances, which gives every offhand comment the potential weight and reach of a manifesto. It’s as if we are standing in the center of a roomful of people, but we don’t know where they’re looking, and we can’t help but feel, both excitedly and uneasily, that they may well be looking at us. Paranoid narcissism—the mixed desires and fears of being watched by unknown others—thus defines virtual society, giving rise to numerous related anxieties such as the sense of exposed insignificance and the fear of missing out. And with its self-consciously self-involved hero, who happens to suffer from all of these woes, The Double describes—and aptly explains—the experiential anxieties of modern social media.”

Modern Origins of Anxiety: Reflections on Idolatry – Mockingbird

“One problem with a more modern, ‘scientific’ epistemology, generally speaking, is that God’s presence becomes unthinkable apart from our recognition of it. For example, it’s not enough to be told God is present in the Eucharist; I must feel something to confirm it. The hidden but present God of Psalm 139, to whom “even darkness is light”, becomes impossible when our perception becomes the criterion for his presence – warm feelings, positive changes in habits or behavior, or intellectual breakthroughs with theology or biblical interpretation.”

The era of Facebook is an anomaly – The Verge

“The idea of real names being the thing that leads you — that’s not actually what leads us in the physical space. We lead with our bodies. We adjust how we present our bodies by situation. We dress differently, we sit differently, we emote differently. The thing about having everything linked to this universal identifier as though that’s real is just not real. That’s not how this works.

“That’s one of the things that teenagers struggle with about Facebook: how to deal with multiple contexts simultaneously. Usually we address context collapse using alcohol in face-to-face environments, like at weddings. Online we don’t have that, so we have to deal with a lot of awkwardness. So of course people are going to have multiple identities.”

What Your Facebook Like Does – Christ and Pop Culture

“There is no standard Facebook “Like” etiquette, and that’s fine. As long as we don’t take these things too seriously and we show one another grace, it’s a fine–albeit annoying at times–form of communication–no different in that sense than a wink.

But while we’re deciding willy-nilly what our Likes mean, Facebook has its own way of interpreting them, and their interpretation affects the way we communicate to one another.”


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About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Mediacurrent. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is

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