Trying to Understand Selfies

Why people take selfies is fascinating to me.

Not the selfies themselves, which invariably look posed and, therefore, false.

But the need to take them appears to be felt strongly by some, even to the extent of using a selfie extender (Okay, this is simply too much. Do people have no shame at all?)

The easiest explanation is pathological narcissism. But that is an unkind thing to imply, although still probably true for many.  

After skimming a few academic studies and speaking with some very smart colleagues, I've come up with five reasons that make sense to me.

  1. Taking and sharing selfies is an act of cultural citizenship. Because we can share photos on social networks, selfies have become an "instrument for peer bonding and interaction." (Vivienne and Burgess 2013)
  2. Selfie-takers feel the need for "continuous self-remodelling", looking at themselves in different social and physical environments  — with a new haircut, a sharp looking partner or dressed in a recently purchased outfit — to discover or validate who they are.
  3. People want to record themselves in a moment with value or meaning for them. (Which is paradoxically counter to the idea of cultural citizenship. The value and meaning are personal so why bother sharing?)
  4. According to my colleague Selena, it may be because people feel the need to "prove they are alright." Nearly everyone smiles in a selfie. Proof  — to themselves through others? — they are having fun, are in love, have a significant other.
  5. Another co-worker, Ilyse, sees them as a form of life documentation — here is who and where I am and these are my friends today. The problem is in her words people are actually "curating images of the life they want other people to think they are having." 

Five reasonable motives — each rather melancholy — that put into perspective a pervasive cultural act.

I am happy to discuss this further . . .

But hold on until I've taken a picture of myself with my iMac camera looking at my screen wearing a green shirt with a hole in the sleeve while I write this.  

"The Greatest Form of Self Expression"

Twitter Coincidences