“I was reminded of a scene in the second series of The Thick Of It, where Peter Mannion, an old-school Tory MP, is told by his Steve Hilton-style spin doctor that he needs to start embracing the internet. ‘Have you ever tried Googling your own name?’ he asks. ‘It’s like opening the door to a room where everyone tells you how shit you are.’ I think this nicely encapsulates the relative merits of Googling yourself: namely, that there are none” (from an article by journalist Bryony Gordon, Daily Telegraph, February 29, 2012).
Last year, the actor Dominic West let it be known to the mass media that he regularly Googles himself and was reported as saying: “I like to have chats about myself with people – mainly putting forward the case for the defence. I use my own name but nobody ever believes me”. I have never worked out why it is such a social faux pas to Google yourself and why it is so derided. I’m quite happy to admit that I regularly Google myself, and that I probably do it more than most other people. In my defence, I am regularly interviewed by the print media and I like to check on what gets reported (particularly as it’s not unknown for me to get misquoted or for my words to be taken out of context. In an article published in the Online Journalism Review, Patrick Dent writes in defence of egosurfing:
“If you are a Web professional – whether an online instructor or journalist, Web developer or marketer – you should be aware of your presence on the Web. And perhaps more importantly, the existence of Web namesakes. And if you are active in the job market, being aware of your nom-de-plume’s cyberexistence is crucial. You should be aware of any nefarious deeds or ill impressions Internet namesakes may be performing… This all goes to illustrate that searching for your name on the Internet is more than the self-serving, vanity endeavor that the label ‘ego-surfing’ implies. Beyond being an interesting exercise, and yes in some cases stroking your ego, it is a prudent – if not downright necessary – activity in today’s Web-aware professional world”.
As an academic, being cited by others is something that is seen positively. As of this morning, I had 14,564 citations on Google Scholar (which for the non-academics reading this means that my papers, articles and books have been cited 14,564 times in other papers, articles, and books). Googling myself is just another variation of seeing how I’ve been cited and I do not think there is anything wrong with it. I suppose I just like knowing about the digital footprint I am leaving online. According to the entry on Wikipedia:
“Egosurfing (also referred to as Googling yourself and less frequently called vanity searching, egosearching, egogoogling, autogoogling, self-googling, master-googling, google-bating) is the practice of searching for one’s own given name, surname, full name, pseudonym, or screen name on a popular search engine in order to review the results. Similarly, an egosurfer is one who surfs the Internet for his or her own name to see what information appears. It has become increasingly popular with the rise of internet search engines, as well as free blogging and web-hosting services”.
So, there you have it. According to Wikipedia’s definition I am officially an egosurfer. The same article also claims that the word ‘egosurfing’ was first coined in 1995 by Sean Carton (who’s written many books about online technology) and then featured in a March 1995 issue of Wired magazine (although the Wired definition of egosurfing is more encompassing and says it is “scanning the Net, databases, print media, or research papers looking for mentions of your own name”).
According to a short 1999 article in the British Medical Journal by Professor James Drife, looking yourself up online is “arguably the naffest way of coping with boredom”. Professor Drife’s whole article was a simple account of what he had found by Googling his own name. By doing so, he claimed to have expanded his horizons, and “strengthened [his] belief that the world is not quite ready to do without paper. Nevertheless, universities could be making plans to judge academics on their internet hits and the response rate”. (Something that I believe is already happening and is one of the reason I like to egosurf). Exactly the same thing was carried out by JoAnne Lehman, one of the editors of Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources and published in 2004. She also listed all the things she had discovered egosurfing and concluded:
“If there’s a point to my telling of this story here – beyond the desire to promote a woman writer’s work – perhaps it’s about the satisfaction of connecting with kindred spirits, and how those connections can be made in surprising ways. Oh, and maybe that Internet surfing, even the ego kind, isn’t necessarily a waste of time”.
Writing about ego-surfing appears to be a popular way of writing an article not just in academic journals but also in non-academic publications such as the national press. Bryony Gordon (the journalist I cited at the beginning of this blog) wrote that:
“Now, I am not Dominic West (Hollywood star; 5,030,000 Google results in just 0.18 seconds). I am Bryony Gordon (newspaper journalist; 431,000 Google results in a glacial 0.21 seconds). But I don’t think it matters whether you are a world famous actor or Joe Bloggs; the fact remains that Googling yourself is a dangerous and egoistical exercise that will never end well. The best case scenario for Joe Bloggs is that he finds nothing, thus making him feel like a nobody; the worst that he finds a group of his mates bitching about him on a social networking site. Ditto, on a good day the likes of Dominic West will come away from a self-Googling session with an even bigger sense of self-importance, on a bad one with a miserable neediness that their agents and lackeys will have to pull them out of. As Reese Witherspoon says, ‘it’s an affirmation of every horrible feeling you have about yourself’”.
Articles in Tech Crunch (by Duncan Riley), and Tech News World (by Katherine Noyes) reported that 47% of Americans had Googled themselves based on a study carried out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (up from the previous study in 2002). Using a telephone survey, the study sampled 2,373 adults (of which 1,623 were internet users). Only a very small minority (3%) Googled themselves regularly (and there was nothing on excessive self-Googling). The main reasons given for egosurfing were (i) for entertainment purposes, (ii) as a means of online reputation management (which is probably the category that I would fall under), and (iii) self-promotion and maintenance of a positive online reputation (e.g., locating online inaccuracies and ‘data spills’ and correcting them).
This is certainly an area worthy of further empirical investigation – even if it’s just to examine stereotypes around the kind of person who ego-surfs.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Dent, P. (2000). ‘Ego-Surfing’ derides valid, prudent activity. Online Journalism Review. Located at: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/ethics/1017964102.php
Drife, J.O. (1999). Egosurfing. British Medical Journal, 318, 203.
Gordon, B. (2012). Google and be damned. Daily Telegraph, February 29. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/9111193/Google-and-be-damned.html
Lehman, J. (2004). From the editors. Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources, 26, ii.
Nicolai, T. Kirchhoff, L., Bruns, A., Wilson, J. & Barry Saunders, B. (2008). Google Yourself! Measuring the performance of personalized information resources. Proceedings Association of Internet Researchers 2008: Internet Research 9.0: Rethinking Community, Rethinking Place, Copenhagen, Denmark. Located at: http://en.scientificcommons.org/31968134
Noyes, K. (2007). Pew study: Self-Googling on the rise. Tech News World, December 17. Located at: http://www.technewsworld.com/story/Pew-Study-Self-Googling-on-the-Rise-60810.html
Riley, D. (2007). Do you use Google for vanity searching? You’re not alone. Tech Crunch, December 16. Located at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Media-Mentions/2007/Do-You-Use-Google-For-Vanity-Searching-Youre-Not-Alone.aspx
Wikipedia (2012). Egosurfing. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egosurfing
One idle evening I was surfing the net looking for blog ideas when I came across a November 2011 article by David Reinstein entitled “Egomania: An adaptive and necessary illness for politicians”. Given that some individuals have described me as an egomaniac over the years, and the fact that I am academically interested in manias and personally interested in politics, I couldn’t help but want to read the article (which I’ll come to in a minute).
There are countless definitions of egomania all of which have considerable overlaps. Reinstein’s article defines it as “an obsessive (driven, constant and uncontrollable) preoccupation with the self” (which pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as I am concerned). Other definitions often mention things like ‘an irresistible love of the self’ and ‘an obsessive concern for one’s own needs’ that again are again how I would define it myself. Dr. Andrew Colman in The Oxford Dictionary of Psychology defines it as ““a pathological love for, or preoccupation with, oneself”. The Wikipedia entry is a bit more long-winded:
“Egomania is an obsessive preoccupation with one’s self and applies to someone who follows their own ungoverned impulses and is possessed by delusions of personal greatness and feels a lack of appreciation. Someone suffering from this extreme egocentric focus is an egomaniac. The condition is psychologically abnormal. The term egomania is often used by laypersons in a pejorative fashion to describe an individual who is intolerably self-centred”.
Egomaniacs are typically characterized as individuals who believe the ‘whole world revolves around them’ and that they are ‘the centre of the universe’. Reinstein also claims in his article that “most egomaniacs suffer from delusions of personal greatness that cover over deeper feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Everything is to, from, for and about them”. (And on that definition I would certainly rule out myself as being an egomaniac). Egomania also seems to be a close cousin of megalomania (i.e., a disorder in which individuals believe they are more powerful, important, or influential than is actually true – and a possible contender for a future blog!).
Egomania is not listed in the most recent (fourth) version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV] (and as far as I an aware it won’t be in the next one either). However, many people believe that egomania is highly prevalent particularly among celebrities and politicians (and is something that at the very least has good face validity). In fact I read a 2011 article in Variety magazine by Peter Bart arguing that it was a “close call” as to whether egomania was a mental illness. However, we appear to tolerate (and arguably even value) egomania if the person is a politician rather than someone we personally know. As Reinstein notes:
“Why would we be so prone to accept this otherwise off-putting quality in the people we elect to represent us? One possible explanation comes immediately to mind. Many people in the general population have reservations about themselves. Perhaps we are drawn to people who seem to be (or at least present themselves as being) more self-assured. People who seem more capable, more assured and assuring, more in control and consistently authoritative may appeal to the electorate as they often do to the movie-going public”.
Again, these assertions appear to have good face validity as we are hardly going to vote for someone who doesn’t come across as confident and cocksure. As a casual observer of American politics, I didn’t give a damn about Bill Clinton’s infidelities. All I would be bothered about if I was an American voter is whether he can do the job (which personally I think he did). From a more psychological standpoint, Gretchen Reevy’s 2011 Encyclopedia of Emotion notes that egomaniacs may perhaps be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as individuals with NPD are incredibly self-centred and appear to match the criteria for being an egomaniac (although NPD is often linked more with megalomania than egomania). Such individuals also have ‘disordered relationships’. Reinstein argued in his article that he couldn’t think of anyone in American politics whether they were running for the presidency or running for Congress that wouldn’t meet the criteria for NPD. As he argues:
“How could someone not afflicted with a substantial dose of Egomania ever consider themselves to be worthy of being elected to such an office? The roles, their responsibilities, trappings and perquisites tend to attract such people. They may not always be the ‘best’ that we have, but their egos are never significantly deficient! Thus, our culture seems to require some egomaniacs. To entertain us and to lead us. It is probably not a coincidence that many entertainers have found their way into major political jobs”
I am presuming here that Reinstein is referring to (among others) Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Bono. Here in the UK, we have similar (if not such high profile) examples including Glenda Jackson, Andrew Faulds, and Michael Cashman. In the Encyclopedia of Emotion also notes that:
“Narcissistic personality disorder affects less than 1 percent of the population (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The cause of the disorder is unknown; the two most accepted theories are contradictory. Some theorists (e.g., Wink, 1996) say that narcissism begins with cold, rejecting parents. The child then creates the self- absorption and grandiosity as a defense against feelings of worthlessness. Others (e.g., Sperry, 2003) argue that people who become adult narcissists were spoiled as children and were taught by their parents that they were superior and special. Thus far, treatment of narcissistic personality disorder is of limited success”.
To be diagnosed with NPD an individual must show at least five of the following characteristics (although it’s worth noting that NPD is being removed from the new DSM-V). This version was taken from Sarah Myers article on ‘manic behaviour’:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance: Egomaniacs exaggerate their achievements and talents, and want other people to recognise them as superior.
- Preoccupation with success and power: Egomaniacs are obsessed with fantasies involving their own brilliance or beauty.
- Arrogance: Egomaniacs’ behaviour is haughty, their attitude conceited and they show rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.
- Need for excessive admiration: Egomaniacs need attention, they want to be adored or, failing that, feared.
- A sense of entitlement: Egomaniacs have unreasonable expectations and believe they deserve favourable treatment.
- Exploitative: Egomaniacs are happy to take advantage of others and use people to get what they want.
- Lack of empathy: Egomaniacs can’t and/or won’t acknowledge other people’s feelings.
- A belief of being unique: Egomaniacs believe that they’re special and can only be understood by and associate with people of high status.
- Feel envy towards others: Egomaniacs believe others feel envious of them.
Myers’ article claims approximately six million people across the world have NPD (and thankfully, having completed the diagnostic test above, I’m not one of them). However, Myers claims that there are many more undiagnosed (as such people are unlikely to think there is anything wrong with them). The Encyclopedia of Emotion notes that:
“Underneath the apparent over-confidence and bravado [of an egomaniac] lies a fragile personality. The narcissistic individual actually fears that he is unworthy or a fraud. His self-esteem may be highly dependent on being recognized as the best or perfect. For instance, he may believe that he is the best salesperson in his office, and if another individual wins the salesperson award, the narcissistic person will react with extreme humiliation. He has grandiose fantasies of boundless success or power or perfect love. He is jealous of those whom he perceives as being more successful in these areas that are valued. Be- cause of the extreme insecurity, the narcissistic person often seeks attention and fishes for compliments”.
After my own brief look at some of the literature on egomania, I am now 100% confident that I am not an egomaniac (although that doesn’t mean I don’t have a big ego).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bart, P. (2011). Egomania or mental illness: A close call. Variety, March 7. Located at: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118033402
Myers, S. (2007). Manic behaviour. Channel 4 Health. November 1. Located at: http://www.channel4.com/health/microsites//0-9/4health/mind/wwr_manic.html
Parker, Pope, T. (2010). Narcissism no longer a psychiatric disorder. New York Times, November 29. Located at: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/narcissism-no-longer-a-psychiatric-disorder/
Reevy, G. (2011). Encyclopedia of Emotion. Oxford: Greenwood.
Reinstein, D.A. (2011). Egomania: An Adaptive and Necessary Illness for Politicians. Yahoo! Voices, November 11. Located at: http://voices.yahoo.com/egomania-adaptive-necessary-10348579.html?cat=5
Sperry, L. (2003). Handbook of Diagnosis and Treatment of DSM-IV-TR Personality Disorders (2nd ed.). New York: Brunner-Routledge.
Wikipedia (2012). Egomania. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egomania
Wikipedia (2012). Narcissistic personality disorder. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_personality_disorder
Wink, P. (1996). Narcissism. In C.G. Costello (Ed.), Personality characteristics of the personality disordered (pp. 146–172). New York: John Wiley.