Are Pencils Making Us Narcissistic?

"Tom, I'm not comfortable with students using pen pal networks," my principal warns me.

"It's not about comfort," Mr. Brown shoots back.

"Good point.  Let me rephrase this.  I am concerned about the pen pal networks and the plogs and the class newspaper you have created.  I recently read a study about how pencils are making society more narcissistic," he warns.

"Pencils? Really?" I ask.

"Yes, see, people are becoming addicted to them and it's turning people self-centered," he warns.

"Addicts?  They're communicating, not drinking Coke.  Let's be honest.  Kids write short texts to one another, because they like to communicate.  It has nothing to do with a fancy yellow Ebherhard," I respond.

"Perhaps, but you can't deny that the medium is making children self-centered," he adds.

"I'm pretty sure self-centeredness is a social and psychological rather than a technological issue.  Blame humanity on that one," Mr. Brown adds.

"What about mirrors?  Those seem to make people far more self-centered than pencils.  Are we going to shatter all school mirrors?"

"That would mean bad luck," the principal says with an awkward chuckle.  He's a dry man trying his best to use humor to deflate the escalating tension.

"Look, I see your point.  Maybe we have that conversation with kids.  Maybe we ask them if they feel the pressure to perform when they have a larger audience.  And maybe that's the issue.  Maybe we keep saying 'audience' rather than 'community,' and so our words are framing our mindset," Mr. Brown adds.

Narcissists aren't always the loudest ones out there and loud people aren't always narcissists.  My father had a strong voice.  He spoke up loudly in defense of the one-room schoolhouse when the town considered closing it down and letting students walk a few more mile to go the opposite direction.  When we moved to the city, he wrote letters to the editor regarding worker's rights and factory conditions.  He wrote letters to friends throughout his informal social network, sharing stories about our family. But his voice was humble.  It was earthy.

The issue isn't the technology we use, but the tone of voice that matters.


  1. maybe, but before we had mirrors, to what extent did people care about their appearance?

    While society has issues, sometimes technology gives us abilities. Sometimes technology enables those issues to come to the forefront.

  2. So if technology amplifies our brokenness, is this ultimately a good or a bad thing? Is it better for these things to be underground or out in the forefront?

  3. Tricky question there John. We want to promote social and personal critical reflection but we don't want to acquiesce to dubious traits or inadvertently promote ills. A viewing of the nightly news disturbs me. I want to be aware of current events but worry that news agencies emphasize negatives in society and cater to a human need for excitement and horror. I guess that is another conversation. I agree that technology is an artefact of our humanity. Like all tools, it must be used with purpose and reflection.

    Parenthetically, I probably scrutinize myself in a mirror too often and step on the damn weigh scale too often. It does feed or starve my personal narcissism I suppose. "Mirrors" come in many forms. Usually our perceptual filters distort what we see anyway.

  4. My wife's response to computers and your remarks is, "Users handle with care," should be stamped on computers. She observes they are part of our social fabric. We need to attend to what we do and its impact on others.

  5. Hi, I'm a student in Dr. Strange's EDM310 Class. I found this to be a very interesting read. While I personally agree with Mr. Brown that narcissism is social and psychological, I do believe technology today and social networking sites such as facebook and twitter promote and encourage children to be more narcissistic.

    You can follow me on twitter at!/voodouchild
    or check out my class blog:

  6. I love the way you illustrate your points. And you are totally right, it all depends on how we use the technology. At a certain age, EVERY child becomes narcissistic, which is basic child development. The, "Me", phase, and it lasts long into adulthood. Technology is used for so much more than personal enjoyment.
    -Heather Perrin
    U. of South Alabama

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