A lot has been written and said about selfies in the past year and a half or so. The selfie is not only a hype amongst the people who use smartphones and tablets, it is also an industry with a powerful marketing machine running full steam. The Selfie is Big Business. There are websites where one can read how to take a proper selfie, websites where you can post your selfies to acquire likes and favs, play the hot or not game and every self-respecting photography shop sells at least one type of selfie-stick and if you want to you can pay for a course on how to make the Perfect Selfie.
People at touristic places who used to sell flowers are now selling selfie-sticks!
There is a tv-series called Selfie – with references to My Fair Lady – and there is a song called #SELFIE, which has been nominated for the Teen Choice Award for Choice EDM Song.
What Is Going On?
According to many professionals in the mental health sphere, many of the people indulging in selfies are actually showing signs of problematic minds. They mention narcissism, psychopathy and self-objectivation as the underlying mechanism that makes people go to such an extend to expose themselves. In favor of the likes, hunting for gratification of a broken self.
Others acknowledge the signs and concentrate on the behaviour to which this excessive behaviour eventually will lead on a personality level and how it may be changing the way humans interconnect. How will a relatively normal individual or group be influenced by engaging in the hype? Will people – as well as the society they are part of – become more narcissistic or show an increase in error-prone conversations?
Studies performed under men show that men expressing behaviour in the narcissistic spectrum are more likely to share selfies than their less narcissistic brethren. (sciencedirect | Selfie posting behaviors are… Elsevier)
Obviously, not everybody who posts a selfie suffers from a mental disorder and not every psychopath posts selfies, but the existence of a certain correlation can not be denied.
So far so good, but what I miss in the discussions that followed the (pre-)publications is the matter of how it got this far. How did relatively normal functioning people end up as overly attention seeking wannabe internet-stars? For a moment, let us focus on the person who is neither a raging (either in or outside his head) psychopath nor a silent narcissist with a never ending need for recognition.
What lies behind that deeply felt – subconsciously constructed – urge to be seen by others, to look at one’s own image? What makes people edit their selfies to such an extent that it almost turns into art, looking for the perfect image of their visual identity?
Some will argue that is due to the social media and while there is certainly truth in that, it is also a limited view. It’s much like blaming the medium ‘photographic paper’ for the duly felt hardship that made a photographer go to Sudan to take pictures of a dying population. That would make no sense.
The Interest Bubble
One variable that is also of great influence on the existence and growth of this mental twister hype is obviously the marketing machine that uses every available tool to create Selfie-Aware people. The boys and girls in sales and marketing, the advertisers, the brainiacs with their skillfully chosen phrases. Words, sounds, images, clickbait… They know all too well how to manipulate our Interest Clouds. Of course companies such as Facebook manage the flow of information and Google alters your search results based on variables such as popularity and previous searches. All to serve you better. Free of charge. Of course!
Our personal Interest Cloud plays a big role in what we see and not, when we browse the web. What worries me – and many, but not enough others – is that this Interest Cloud is an organic cluster of scripts that is constantly harvesting, mining, analyzing, classifying, targeting and redistributing our data. Facts and assumptions about our lives, algorithms designed to deconstruct and redefine us. As a product, an identifiable and totally predictable consumer. The ultimate resource; the product and the buyer in one.
I want to argue that we should go beyond all that and concentrate on the humanitarian side, rather than the technique or the medium. We should do that from a different perspective than – let’s say – the DSM list. In other words: let’s not try to put personality disorder labels on people or design nice looking diagrams that only show how good we are at creating statistics. The human and his place in society, perceived or real, should be the field of research.
The Big Beyond – 1
Throughout human history, there have been people who felt the urge to look at themselves. Staring into the reflections of the water, studying one’s own features for hours in a well lit mirror and as a feature in Art it is definitely not new – examples are easy to find – . However, what is new is the enormous amount of images that we produce. Selfies as well as all kinds of different images. Painters have been performing self-studies for ages and – more close to home – we all know people who are completely self-absorbed. Nothing here is really new. Except, again, the multitude. The shitstream of pictures that gets uploaded to the web every twenty-four hour, every single minute, is completely insane. We all act like we are in a psychosis, tripping on attention and confirmation. While digitally screaming for attention, we seem to forget more and more how to really give our attention. Our full attention, focused, aware of the other, solid in our Self.
The Self – 1
Whilst going through the phases of life, ideally each and every one of us creates a self-image. This image of The Self is based on what we believe about ourselves and how we behave in the world; what we stand for, what makes us tick, what kind of food we like, whether we think we are a person to be with or not and very much it is based upon what others think of us. Growing up we generate a self-image that makes us feel the way we do, triggers our emotions and actions and it shapes our reactions to the reactions we receive from others and the results we get for our efforts. So, we ultimately also have a view on the world and integrating those two images into a fitting one is not an easy task. For anyone. It takes many of us a lifetime to figure things out and lead a satisfying life.
The Big Beyond – 2
But what if most of the feedback we receive from our environment is fabricated by the commercial entities that provide us with any given medium? What if this medium only shows us the information that solely exists because of smart algorithms that follow our each and every move when we are using the medium and even when we are not?
Bottom-line: we live in a society that makes it very hard to form oneself an informed opinion on anything. For one thing, we are constantly being bombarded by data and a large part of that data has been designed to influence what we think and do. Most notably, our consumption is being formatted. On a deeper level yet, almost from the moment we are born, but most definitely from the moment we go to (pre-)school, start to watch television, enter shops – engage in social life – we are subject to social experiments. Our Self is being designed for us.
Our thoughts, fears, likes and social interaction fabricated: by our parents, teachers, priests, politicians and governments that are basically under control of economic entities.
The news media constantly validating an ongoing war machine, anti-terrorism as an excuse to limit the rights of the individual, shifting blame and dividing our attention.
So Big Money can keep creating Bigger Money.