Social Media Narcissism and Gratitude

Sean Bolton
Mar 22, 2016 · 3 min read

What if our slight narcissism actually makes us more grateful for our lives because we document everything so well.

It may seem that Facebook is purely about sharing how awesome your life is with other people. But what if, in our attempts to document our awesomeness and share it with others, we actually form a mechanism to remind ourselves of the things that we care about and the people that are important to us. We form an external digital memory.

We could then use this external digital memory to build more mechanisms to remind us to be grateful and could even tap into the social-ness that technology provides. Could we create more fulfilling lives this way? We have automated services that speak to us pretending to be human, we build interfaces that try to articulate as much humanness as possible, and in every possible way we try to personify the interactions that take place with technology because, as humans, we personify nearly everything in our attempts to understand and connect with the world. The technologies we make alter our consciousness, so why not create technologies that alter our consciousness in different, meaningful ways? Ways like reminding you to be grateful. Take, for example, something as simple as Timehop.

We are so good at building social technologies and become better every day. We continue to better understand engagement strategies, behavioral hooks, user experience design, the underlying code that makes things possible, and so much more. Today we have countless recipes and examples for how to make a new app addicting. We already have some mindfulness apps like Headspace that do a good job trying to use technology to alter our state of mind for the better.

There could certainly be more and certainly be better mindfulness apps but what I am most curious about is social technologies because for so long I’ve viewed them as time not well spent. We spend hours looking at lives we don’t have and can often experience a subtle element of sadness or fear of missing out. We spend hours manicuring our social presence with a constant pressure of what others think. We spend hours on our devices that we could or should be spending with others — we become alone, together.

As we think about external digital memory: an app can store a wide array of contextual information. A simple photo on your phone will hold the time it was taken, what device it was taken with, where it was taken, and (when connect with a social app) who is in the photo. Now, imagine yourself arriving at your parent’s house. You might have personal internal memories the second you see the house. Certainly you will as you walk in and start looking at the items around you. Each physical element has the potential to have memories associated with it — this is how the human brain works.

In the digital realm, each contextual attribute and/or physical element you have shared on social media has memories associated with it too — this is how the computer brain works.

When we post on social media, it lives there and we forget about it shortly after people stop interacting with it. In a way, it’s like writing in a journal. But with modern social media apps, we have effectively made a social journal that is so addicting we can’t stop writing in it.

The trouble with most analog journals is that we forget about things after we write them. If not immediately, certainly months after we write them. (That may very well be their charm.) But with a social digital journal, we have computers that can pick up on contextual cues and remind us about our entries.

So, you could arrive at your parent’s house and have your phone show you pictures you took last time you were at your parent’s house. Photos you may have forgotten. Or perhaps it’s your friend’s birthday and your phone shows you a collage of photos and posts you have been tagged in together over the year. Or maybe you travel to a different city that you’ve visited before and you see the places you visited last time.

If you are reminded of the things you share on social media once they are contextually relevant again, you might experience more gratitude by remembering past experiences. You might share more and share more meaningful things as they would noticeably come back to you later.


Following this train of thought, I built http://www.gratefulapp.me/.

Sean Bolton

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I’m a design and growth focused product maker on a mission to make the world feel more human. Learn more: http://seanbolton.me/