Living in the 'I' World

12 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2018

See all articles by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise

Date Written: December 13, 2018


This article explores the difference between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (a distinction originally made by the sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies) and suggests there has been a strong shift towards Gesellschaft—a societal model where human associations are governed by rationality and self-interest, and interactions are of a more impersonal nature. With this transition has come a rise in individualism, contributing to the emergence of the “I” society—a social entity that is characterized by conspicuous narcissistic behavior.

Characteristics of narcissistic behavior are described. Attention is given to developmental factors that augment people’s insecurities. In addition, it is suggested that social media (in particular, referring to the millennial generation and beyond) have become a virtual surrogate in helping people cope with feelings of insecurity by over-publicizing themselves—a pattern that is contributing to the emergence of the “I” society. Taking an individual, organizational, and societal perspective, recommendations are made on how to prevent this trend to become more prominent.

Keywords: Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft, “I” Society, Collectivism, Individualism, Narcissism, Self-esteem movement, Social media, Millennials

Suggested Citation

Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R., Living in the 'I' World (December 13, 2018). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2018/56/EFE, Available at SSRN: or

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries (Contact Author)

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise ( email )

Fontainebleau Cedex, F-77305

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