Selfies nowadays are considered normal. Everyone takes them, and they are all over social media. Apps, such as Snapchat and Instagram have fuelled the selfie and provided an easier and more accessible platform for people to take and share pictures of themselves with the public. So what is the cause of this phenomenon? What makes us want to take selfies? Why is it important? Is it empowerment or self-obsession?
The introduction of the selfie saw a rise of fear and astonishment from the public. People were fascinated and scared. What could these images do? What were the consequences? Selfies were frowned upon for a very long time mostly by people of the older generation (baby boomers, Gen X) who tend to be afraid of the selfie, perceiving it as the be all end all of humanity and social interaction. The fear was of a privacy breach. They also thought it was pointless and self-obsessive.
They weren’t wrong, selfies do indeed have elements of self obsession and narcissism. But, these aren’t necessarily bad attributes to have. If anything, they provide more power to the selfie as a tool to the individual.
The fear of the selfie is demonstrated in this article by ABC News where they discuss the selfie as a means of individual sexualisation. It purely focuses on one tiny aspect of the selfie world, which is sexting and provocative selfies in the “thirst for likes”. And yes, these are two relatable concepts, but the thirst for likes is a whole other can of worms. The article goes on to discuss how, “We are heading towards a time when the label ‘narcissist’ will be just another term of endearment”.
However, on the other hand people seem to love the convenience of the selfie, it takes the awkwardness out of asking someone to take a photo for you. It could be argued that this in itself is limiting social interaction and furthering the filter bubble effect as individuals focus more on themselves than others.
Although Selfies have narcissistic elements, they can also be used for good. Selfies play an instrumental role in individual and group empowerment. Selfies have empowered minority groups by enabling them to spread their message to wider audiences all over the globe. Accompanied by a hash tag (#), Selfies have the ability to empower minority groups and drive campaigns to make significant changes in society. #ItsOkaytotalk is a campaign raising awareness for Men’s Mental Health. This campaign relied on people taking selfies whilst making an “okay” hand sign and then uploading them to facebook accompanied by a status including Men’s Health statistics. The campaign was predominantly spread over facebook , however it did also happen on twitter.
The reason this campaign was so successful was because of the implementation of the selfie. Yes, the hashtag is a powerful tool alone, but being accompanied by the selfie meant that it was easier to gain momentum. Another reason this campaign was a big success was the tagging aspect. In each post people would tag 5 friends. People were able to tag their friends in the post and feel apart of a bigger community. The more people saw selfies of their friends supporting the campaign, the more they would feel like they were missing out. Hence, the selfie nature invites participation and involvement.
This brings me too my next point of FOMO (Fear of missing out). Everyone experiences FOMO on different levels. People with high levels of FOMO, tend to be more susceptible to consumerism.
Why is FOMO relevant?
Selfies are consumable. People love taking them, people love seeing them. That is why they became so popular. In other words, seflies are a cool fun thing that appeal to people because they feel that in order to keep up they need to participate and be actively involved in selfies.
From a Utilitarian perspective, Selfies are overall empowering. Although selfies are inherently narcissistic, they enable minority groups to spread their message and initiate change.