When aliens will invade this earth and study the cultural & anthropological history of the species they just defeated, they will be struck by the overwhelming presence of digital self-portrait. They would probably interpret it as a vain human attempt to capture a slice of moment or fleeting history or desire to avoid mortality. When they would know that this trend is called “Selfie” and it was also the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2013, they would probably shake their large, oversized head in disbelief and note it down in their checklist next to Human Being’s desire for nonsensical violence as yet another puzzling trait that they just couldn’t fathom.
Why do people take Selfies? If its for Self, then why do they end up in places where they should and would be viewed by hundreds of people? Why do people automatically take nude pictures of their own, and even more puzzlingly, send it to complete strangers?
A 2012 study conducted by the University of Utah Department of Psychology found that out of 606 teenagers ages 14–18 who were surveyed, nearly 20% of the students said they had sent their own nude picture through mobile phone, and nearly twice as many said that they had received a sexually explicit picture. Of those receiving such a picture, over 25% indicated that they had forwarded it to others. Clearly, some Selfies are meant much more than a vanity check.
Human beings tendency to capture themselves on a piece of paper is nothing new. Self portraits done by famous and not so famous artists exist from centuries back. While they were once the signature styles of van Eyck, Rembrandt van Rijn and Joseph Ducreux, today any Tom, Dick and Harry with Smart Phone is an artist thanks to the democratization of technology.
The extreme prevalence of Selfies raise two key questions. Firstly, why people are doing it so much? And to follow up, what are the more long lasting consequences of this trend.
Some social psychologists believe Selfies are a way of identity formation and expression. It gives the Selfie taker an opportunity to create a much desirable “Self” than what he/she already has and that picture is the happy state that the unhappy self wants to become, even if its for a split second. But then some researchers claim this is an extension of modern narcissism. As per Cornell University Professor of psychology Peggy Drexler, “selfie subjects feel as though they’re starring in their own reality shows, with an inflated sense of self that allows them to believe their friends or followers are interested in seeing them lying in bed, lips pursed, in a real world headshot. It’s like looking in the mirror all day long and letting others see you do it.”
What are the more overarching implications of this trend apart from growing Facebook likes and stock price?
In a recent study conducted by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, about 1 in every 3 doctors who participated in the survey confessed that they saw a growing number of clients who wanted changes done on their face and body due to social media
In a paper titled “Tagger’s Delight? Disclosure and liking behavior in Facebook: the effects of sharing photographs amongst multiple known social circles” four professors from three European business schools claim that people who post more selfies have shallow relationships with people. To come to this conclusion, the professors asked 508 Facebook users with an average age of 24 to rank how close they feel to their friends, coworkers and relatives who also use Facebook. They then compared those answers to how many selfies those people posted. Overwhelmingly, the more someone posted selfies, the lower they ranked on the intimacy scales of the participants.
The most ambitious Selfie study was done independently, where 20,000 Selfies from Bangkok, Berlin, Moscow, New York and São Paolo were analyzed to find hidden patterns. Some of the more interesting findings are
- Women take more Selfies then Men
- The facial expressiveness of Selfies vary as per the cultural openness of the country
- The average age of Selfie takers is 23.7, making it a pretty much youth dominant terrain
Its all harmless fun, until you fail to draw the line. In March a woman took a Selfie after her plane crashed during take-off. And then another snapped a Selfie with a person just before jumping for suicide on Brooklyn bridge.
There is an old Red Indian saying which states that when we take pictures, we lose a part of our soul. Soul-less with “Selfie”? Probably that explains the current state of world.