The aiming of a point-and-shoot camera at a mirror is possibly one of the most monumental advances in photography culture. Artists having been doing self-portraits for centuries, but never before has it been this easy. Now we share every aspect of our lives – we take selfies and post them on Facebook, we Instagram our every meal, we give shout-outs to our friends from the Maldives holiday and pin before-and-after diet pictures to Pinterest. We create elaborate digital personas by sharing all we do. Is this a cry for validation from our peers? Is it ostentatious self-absorption? Is narcissism such a bad thing anyway?

Heinz Kohut, a Viennese doctor, tried to redefine narcissism, separating it into good and bad. Bad narcissism was just like Ovids narcissus – arrogant, demanding and selfish. But good narcissism was the feeling that brought colour to your cheeks, boosts your self-esteem and makes you vivacious and creative. Kohut ridiculed the idea of selfish people being narcissistic and claimed that the problem with selfish people was that they weren’t narcissistic enough. Around this time books started turning up on shelves with titles like I’m Okay, You’re Okay and How to Be Your Own Best Friend. Esteem, awareness, knowledge… They all acquired the prefix “self”.

Now submerged in an era of hyper information, social media and selfies, are we becoming a narcissistic generation? If so, why? Is it as Kohut claimed, that we did not get the appreciation and affirmation of our worth needed when we were children? Or are we just the arrogant result of a hyper connected Information Age and too many self-help books?

What Kohut meant by good narcissism was self-esteem, something innate and as indescribable as “soul” or “vibe”. You have it as a child, until it becomes wounded, after which it takes years again to find. Self-esteem is self-sustaining, and feeds off nothing.

Bad narcissism could be described as ego, the ultimate enemy of compassion. Ego is a rational construct that we devise as a substitute for self-esteem when it becomes too wounded to provided confidence anymore. Achieving social status, making money, getting the girl… These things allow us to logically tell ourselves “I have confidence”. The ego is not self-sustaining and feeds off continual attention, accolades and good reactions.

Millennials walk a fine line between ego and esteem. Statistically, they are more narcissistic than previous generations. And they will never rid themselves of ego, especially amidst rapidly evolving social technologies. But from the very same generations that are under scrutiny for their habits of over-sharing (52% of social network users post risky information online), we see an increasing amount of receptivity and openness. Could these egos, made porous, have the potential for benefit rather than harm? Open-mindedness, after all, is the way of the future.