It's been more than 100 years since English sociologist Havelock Ellis first advanced the concept of narcissism. Today, one might argue, the notion is being advanced by Apple's Steve Jobs, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and other players in the e-reader market.

How will the collision between narcissism, e-readers and newspapers play out?

It's too early to tell. But this much is clear: E-readers are forcing newspaper executives to produce and market papers differently. What's more, the relationship consumers now have with newspapers will undoubtedly change. As media prophet Marshall McLuhan wrote nearly 50 years ago, the message of any medium is "the new human environment" it creates.

Traditional role

The newspaper's traditional role - town crier and tribune - united a community by providing news serendipitously, especially in its printed format.

With millions of people owning iPads, Kindles and other e-readers - gadgets that give their owners the option to receive only the news they want - it's time to consider the possibility that if news happens but doesn't occur on your e-reader, is it news to you?

"No, of course not," said Ava Seave, a principal at New York-based consulting firm Quantum Media and co-author of "The Curse of the Mogul: What's Wrong With the World's Leading Media Companies."

"Yes, it's news because it's an event but it's not on my radar," she added.

"The technology of today probably facilitates the narcissism," said Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University sociologist and co-

author of "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement."

Armed with e-readers and only digesting news that's important to them, will John and Jane Q. Public know about the next tragedy, the next election, their next-door neighbor or even each other?

"I think the fear is overwrought," said Outsell Inc. newspaper analyst Ken Doctor, author of "Newsonomics." "There are new (virtual) communities, and they counterbalance what we lack in shared experiences.

Each other's editors

"We're becoming each other's editors. We're sharing stories on Facebook, LinkedIn and on e-mail. The reading experience is becoming socialized," added Doctor.

Toronto-based management consultant Mark Federman said we're entering a new era, one he dubs the "ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity age," meaning "we experience everyone to whom we are connected and conceivably everyone to whom we are potentially connected."

E-readers, he said, much like cell phones and laptops, bond us to one another.

As a result, Federman said, geographic distances are eliminated, allowing us to live in a global village, thus making it impossible to become self-centered.

Historian Edward Tenner, in his book "Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences," said the revenge effect of any device is its unexpected result.

So while newspaper CEOs might see e-readers as gateways to an abundance of subscribers, the devices could at the same time dampen news consumption.

"The question with e-reader editions is will you read stories that you hadn't planned to read?" Seave said.

University of Oslo Prof. Thomas Hylland Eriksen, author of "Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age," wrote that back in the good old days of just the Internet, news fragmented and, as a result, "There (was) ... no guarantee that the neighbor had heard about the government's latest budget cuts or the latest plane crash."

And e-readers could exacerbate this situation. To successfully sell subscriptions on this platform, newspapers will have to offer specialized information, Seave said.

Captive customers

"Why are the customers captive? Because the information is unique," she said.

On the other hand, said UCLA psychiatrist Gary Small, co-author of "iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind," there's a chance people could become addicted to their e-reader because of the content that's available.

"Technology tends to put into high gear all human behavior, whether it's gambling or other kinds of compulsive or addictive behavior," Small said.

Maybe newspaper junkies will gravitate to these devices because, hey, if they're buying one paper on the machine, they'll soon need another. And another. And yet another.

While the name Kindle isn't narcissistic - it means to start a fire, which should make book, magazine and newspaper execs. question Bezos' motives - there's a reason it's called an iPad.

It's about you.

"The brands we showcase as our possessions tell the world something about us," said Northwestern University consumer behavior Prof. Kelly Goldsmith.

So if you own an iPad, it's clear who's numero uno in your life.

Today an e-reader is a lightweight, portable, handheld, wireless device.

What will it be tomorrow?

"You may wave a wand and a screen appears in front of you," speculated Small. "The next thing is holograms carrying television newscasters delivering news to you."

We may soon witness a family of four in the same room staring in four different directions, consuming information and entertainment that's relevant only to each one.

Perhaps that means that though the family is together, it'll be even further apart.

Is that this medium's ultimate message?

 

 

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