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Gadgets as mirrors

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Monday, Nov 14, 2005

The old narcissism involved admiring your reflection in a mirror; the new narcissism has to do with discovering yourself by staring into your gadgets, as is observable on any given subway ride or stroll down 6th Avenue. The intense concentration, the obliviousness to the world around them in favor of admiring that song selection one’s iPod dredged up from the depths of one’s collection (I am well-rounded, aren’t I?) or that new email received on the BlackBerry (I am important, aren’t I? And popular too!) or testing those cell-phone rings (which group of eleven notes best expresses who I really am, today? Oh, “My Humps”—of course.) Hand-held gadget technology has long functioned as a way to blot out the existence of other people so that one can concentrate on preening oneself; it focuses one intently on a space less than a foot away from one’s eyes while usefully obliterating everything outside of that radius. With the complexity of this technology, one can have a dialogue with oneself that admits surprises, as when the iPod shuffle feature brightens some neglected nook of one’s personality. This allows us to be fascinated with ourselves even more than we already typically are. Filtering our own thoughts through the technology, we can make it seem as if our self-regard is something else, dignifying what is in effect a digital grooming of the virtual identity our gadgets make for us.

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