Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Identifying the Anonymous

At the bottom of this page, you will find a counter that indicates how many individuals have visited this blog. As the author of AoaN, I have access to other information that this tracking device provides, such as where the visitors are coming from, what they did to get here, what they looked at, and where they went when they left. For example, this morning I found that someone in Petaling Jaya in the region of Wilayah Persekutuan in Malaysia stopped by after having read the Weblog review (posted on May 11th), they stayed for 2 minutes and 16 seconds, visited two pages, and left by clicking on "Read 2 Chapters." Another example: an Iowan did a search on MSN for "how i became a narcissist," found AoaN on the second page of results and clicked through. Some might find this lack of anonymity alarming; I find the information curious and check the counter almost everyday.

Having recently fallen headfirst into the world of eCommerce, I have been exposed to a lot of studies on the behavior of the individual on the Internet. Noteworthy is how unique the experience is when observed through the behavior, as opposed to the other way around. For instance, the average time spent on any given web page is 20 seconds; then, they move on or go back. This is important to know when moving commerce across the web, but it is also interesting when one has a blog that is out there in the eTher. I find that most visitors to AoaN show a stay duration of 0 (zero) seconds, which I have come to assume to mean they stay less than 30 seconds. These long paragraphs I write, though proper and expected in print media, are likely scaring most surfers away. As a reader, I, too, find I grow impatient with long posts. As a writer, old habits die hard.

Of course, there is a plethera of studied behaviors surrounding the anonymity of the web experience. Though sometimes called a "community," the Internet facilitates very individualistic, non-committal and less than amiable attitudes. It also lays the foundation for role-playing, one of its most burgeoning pursuits.

Someone Not Me

Sometimes, I play the role of someone who is not me and search the web for ways to arrive at AoaN. This morning, I did a Google search for "Narcissist" and found my blog to be the 79th search result. Add the name "Foster" and it brings in my book as the number one result, as well as 2nd through 5th. So I suppose I've pigeonholed myself, if only by name.

The seventh search result was the start of another rabbit hole for me. It clicked through to a psychological paper by Joshua Foster and W. Keith Campbell of the Psychology Department at University of Georgia, and Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University. It is entitled "Individual differences in narcissism: Inflated self-views across the lifespan and around the world." I was sucked in. Granted, I know nothing of what constitutes quality in the world of psychology papers, but I was intrigued. I recommend it; it is only 18 pages in length, 2 of which are footnotes and if you are short on time, skip ahead to the "Discussion" on page 12 where the findings of their study are explored.

Basically, their predictions in four areas are validated by their research (note that by "report" they mean "display"):
  1. We found that younger people report more narcissism than older people.
  2. The differences in reported narcissism levels among the contrasted ethnic identities are similar to those in self-esteem.
  3. We found that world regions that generally display greater individualism also tend to display more narcissism.
  4. We were able to report further evidence that men report more narcissism than women.

Do the reading for more details, and it's good reading, but know that they found that the Chinese are more narcissistic than Americans, but the Japanese are less narcissistic than Americans, and that Blacks score the highest and Asians either the lowest or near the lowest (for narcissism) and that the more failure people experience, the less narcissistic they are likely to be. Among other things.

Constructed A Website

All of this - and particularly the racial distinctions - begs the question as to who their subject pool was. They constructed an Internet website through which they were able to survey 3445 participants across their needed ethnic, national, age and gender lines. They do a good job, in my opinion, of controlling for their various tests. They reflect upon their findings, how their subjects may have been a factor, and they consider the shortcomings of their subject pool. However, one comment stood out for me:

"In general, one might question whether Internet respondents answer questionnaires honestly. However, this concern is present in the traditional survey method as well, and there is no reason to believe that people are more dishonest when completing an Internet questionnaire."

In fact, there is reason to believe that people are more dishonest when completing an Internet questionnaire. This isn't to say that one should believe that they are less honest, only that reason is there. I have read many studies that support this. Granted, of late, these have been marketing studies, but who better to subsidize such investigations than the businesses that want to make sure they're getting the most bang for their buck? However, I do remember a web-expert interviewed in Wired magazine (back in the days when we still called this "The Information Highway," circa 1995) who stated that the entire experience of the Internet will be defined and determined by "accountability." And I think she was accurate.

Signs Of Narcissism

Internet studies show that perceived anonymity promotes aggressive behavior, feelings of empowerment and entitlement, overall individualistic motives, and diminishes the impulse to accountability. Interesting is that these behaviors are classic signs of narcissism. Here's the part I like: the irony. Foster, Campbell, and Twenge, in surveying Internet users in a study about narcissism, employed the medium of the web, a medium that clearly promotes narcissistic tendencies in its users. I'm impressed with their study, but isn't it more than possible that this irony could alter their findings? Couldn't those who "report more narcissism" be reporting even more narcissism when they find themselves behind the wheel of their browsers?

Hmmmm. Is this post aggressive? Individualistic? Am I perceiving it as empowering? Well, I will be held accountable. That's a relief.


Blogger Steven LaRose said...

Although I would discourage you from changing your post length, I do have to make sure that I have the time to read and think when I visit here. For example, this morning my daughter threw-up and I am waiting for the doctor to call back. I don't feel guilty about sitting at the computer. In fact, I am feeling this as a constructive use of a time that I would otherwise be pacing.

I see AoaN in a catagory of blogs that work like a speach or stand-up should. Deliver the line or thought and wait for the feedback, pause, and then deliver again. Timing.

AoaN is a bit like an inverted comic book. Heavier on the text with a few supporting images. Actually, I love how your images can stand alone as a narrative.

Damn. The nurse just called. I've got to go check for some symptoms.

Quickly, I've been keeping a list of unique googles that bring people to my site. A couple days ago, someone in Pakistan came to my blog by googling:
"Rose and Gack"
I wanted to ramble a bit about how I am from a catagory that perceives minimal anonymity here on the web. In fact, the whole point is to be very open (within reason).
More later,

May 20, 2006 5:36 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Foster said...

"How to Bait a Narcissist" really slayed me. I would love to see that list. I might start one as well, but most are the same. Others strike me as disquietingly personal, such as "how to leave a narcissist."

Strange to have such intimate insight into someone who is completely unkown. The interactivity of it makes it even more personal; the fact that they searched for some bit of information makes it feel as though we are given a candid snapshot of a mind's thinking during a brief moment in time. It's completely honest, not tempered by attempts at veiling or the desire to maintain appearances.

If what you are pointing towards, Stephen, is the idea of Open Source thoughts and thinking, I'm all for it. It's scary sometimes, but ultimately allows us to focus on very important issues.

Open the Source, I say! By merely posting a blog (similar in this way to making offers as an artist), one is making viewable the code of their own lives.

May 21, 2006 11:27 AM  

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