Welcome to the era of digital narcissism. A world where ostentatiousness is widely appreciated and endless boasting opportunities are the norm. Bragging has never been easier and more celebrated.
The selfie has become a huge part of our lives, with over a staggering one million selfies taken a day; more than 17 million of those uploaded to popular social media platforms, such as Instagram, weekly. It has transformed the simple self-portrait into something more immediate, and enables us to change our look and mask our identity. But are selfies something to worry about, or just a bit of harmless fun?
For better or worse, the selfie has undoubtedly cemented its place in modern pop culture. Even The Oxford Dictionary got in with the action by declaring “selfie” as word of the year! Everyone from the president to the Pope has taken part in the selfie phenomenon.
At the University of California, computer scientists conducted a study which was published in the Psychology of Well-Being, and discovered that regularly taking selfies is actually beneficial to our health as it leads to an increase in body confidence and an improvement in mood. Young people became more comfortable taking photos of themselves which led to feeling better about themselves as a whole.
The study involved 41 university students, who documented their mood over the period of a month as they carried out their day to day routines. The students were asked to record how they felt by taking part in an online survey that provided an in-depth look into their emotions. The same students were then split into three separate groups for a further three weeks. However, in this period they were asked to document their moods by either ‘taking a selfie with a smiling expression, a photo of something that would make oneself happy and a photo of something that would make another person happy.’ The end results found that whilst all three photo formats led to an uplift in their general mood, those who took daily selfies also reported a significant increase to their overall confidence and helped to relieve stress.
Fears about the impact of selfies were recently brought to the medias attention with the story of popular Instagrammer Essena O’Neill, aged 18, who claimed that she quit the huge social media platform after her online presence started to negatively impact her real life. With more than 612,000 followers, Essena described Instagram as “contrived perfection made to get attention”, whereby she was easily able to make an income from marketing products at $2000AUD a post.
In October of last year, she deleted more than 2,000 pictures “that served no real purpose other than self-promotion”, and drastically edited the captions to reveal the manipulation and insecurity behind them. A photo of her wearing a bikini, once captioned “Things are getting pretty wild at my house. Maths B and English in the sun,” was edited to “see how relatable my captions were – stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs. I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention.”
In a 17 minute vlog uploaded to YouTube, Essena discussed how she was completely consumed by Instagram, where she felt like she was living in a 3D world, which is the reason why she quit social media. She obsessively checked her like count because she was so hungry for social media validation, and felt insecure if she didn’t reach a like count that was deemed acceptable.
Essena has now created her own website, letsbegamechangers.com, where she aims “to inspire constant QUESTIONING”, where there’s “no likes or views or followers … just my content as raw as I want”. Give it a read!
Firstly, selfies can create privacy risks. Facebook uses facial recognition technology, which experts argue is illegal. They are able to process a whooping 350 million photos a day, providing invaluable information for exploitation, such as for commercial use, ATMs and credit cards as well as unlocking your iPhone. Anything you do or download online leaves a digital trail; The NSA can match satellite photos with any photos taken to identify the exact spot where that photo was taken. Now that is scary!
Selfies can also damage real life relationships. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, found that sharing too many photos on Facebook negatively impacted levels of intimacy.
Another problem associated with selfies is that it can actually become an addiction. Unfortunately this was the outcome for Danny Bowman, a ‘selfie obsessed’ 19 year old, who tried to commit suicide after becoming so depressed that he took an overdose. He would find himself spending up to 10 hours a day taking 200 photos of himself; ““I was constantly in search of taking the perfect selfie and when I realised I couldn’t I wanted to die. I lost my friends, my education, my health and almost my life.” Danny underwent intensive hospital therapy to combat his OCD and Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which were both a result of his addiction to technology.
In the majority of cases, selfies are fun and harmless. But doing anything in excess isn’t good, so as long as you lead a balanced life both online and in real life, then selfies will simply be another way to continue having fun in our digital age.