The First Person Problem

There is a habit on social media that isn’t very social. Let’s call it the “First Person Problem.” It is the tendency for a person to constantly steer the conversation to be about themselves. 

You’ve seen it many times. A post is made online and the comments are “I love that place” or “I’ve been there” or “why didn’t you invite me?”

Or to make it more poetic:

“Ding!” what could it be
I hurry myself to see
Whatever I find
The task is now mine
To turn the topic to me

This self-referential habit happens often. For many, it’s the most natural response online and in person.

Conversely, the ability to respond toward others with selfless observations and compliments is an admirable skill.

Let me clarify: People should post about their thoughts and what they are doing in their lives. They should share their feelings, accomplishments, and activities. This post is more about what happens afterward. 

One Example from Religion

In the beginning, the Plan of Salvation was presented. Because of this plan, we can be perfected through the Atonement, receive a fulness of joy, and live forever in the presence of God. As part of the plan, a Savior was needed.

An account of this undertaking is written in the Book of Moses, Chapter 4. After the plan was made clear, read these two responses and where the focus is turned: (emphasis added)

That Satan…came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.

This is, of course, the ultimate example. Nothing posted online has this significance. It’s a just a helpful reminder and goal. 

Some Helpful Science

Recently there was an article (Apple News Link) that gave a helpful overview on this topic. 

Here are a few things from the article that were interesting:

  • Roughly 30 to 40 percent of our speech is self-referential, according to a small study of university students. As for social-media use, results from an analysis of posts on one platform suggest that about 80 percent of us post about ourselves.
  • We can exhibit symptoms of an addiction to self-referential behavior. This is what the sociologist Charles Derber calls “conversational narcissism” in his book The Pursuit of Attention: Seeking a small dopamine hit, we can develop a habit of reflexively bringing every conversation around to our own life and experiences.
  • Constant talk about oneself can point toward other mood disorders, like depression. “People with depression spend more time thinking about themselves than nondepressed people do, and have difficulty switching their attention to other people and things.”

The article goes on to suggest that engaging with others about them can actually be beneficial in many ways for our own mental health.

The I Test

Think about someone you respect and admire. How often do they steer conversations to be about themselves?

Now take a minute and look over your recent responses to text messages and comments to posts online. How many of those responses have an “I” at the beginning of the sentence? 

Is the ratio where you want it to be?