What Does Our Obsession With Selfies Say About Us?

Is our society becoming one of narcissism?

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Why are we so obsessed with selfies? What does it say about us as a society? What if the ancient civilizations had had smartphones? Would we see shots of King Tut hamming it up in the royal throne room? Cruising the Nile with his buds on the royal barge? Would museums be full of photos of Hannibal astride his elephant with his boyz as he crossed the Alps? Plato at the forum? King Arthur cheese-ing it up with Lancelot? I guess we’ll never get to share in those little historic moments since those guys didn’t have smartphones. 

It’s kind of awkward to bring a painter with you and ask everybody on the battlefield to hold that pose while they sketch the scene. It ruins the spontaneity of the moment.

But here we are, in the 21st century, snapping away, preserving for all time the magic of our smiling mugs, sometimes doing nothing at all. Does posterity really need all that much detail? What about preserving the mystique? I now know more than I ever wanted to know about a boatload of people I have never met. I’m sure they are all great people, but this may be sensory overload.

Anyway, when I decided to write this post, I just naturally thought that the reason for all the selfies is that we are a bunch of self-obsessed narcissists with too much time on our hands. But then, as I began to research the subject, I found some surprising facts. The answer is not so simple as that. In fact, there are quite a few different answers, all of them valid. Here are some of the things I turned up.

In order to understand the selfie phenomenon, you have to look at the different types of selfies. There seem to be three main types; solo, those taken with a romantic partner, and those taken in a group.

Dr. David Ludden of Gwinnett College in his post titled “The Psychology of Selfies“, suggests that selfies play a part in our social positioning and mating rituals. He says that camera position is significant as well. For instance, if you hold your phone above your head, you will appear shorter and younger. If you take your selfie straight on, You will appear as you are. And if you take your selfie from below you will look taller and more dominant.

In her post for Psychology Today titled “What is the Real Link Between Selfies and Narcissism?“, Dr. Gwendolyn Seidman of Allbright College confirms that there is indeed a small correlation between posting solo selfies and narcissism. She adds that selfies many also be a way to connect with others, especially when taken in a group or in couples.

Certainly, selfies are a way of connecting with others via social media, but I would like to suggest that in my opinion, there is another reason for the proliferation of selfies. It is that like Tutankhamun, Hannibal, Alexander and so many others, we just want to feel as though we are leaving a legacy. We want to be remembered, to leave a piece of us behind once we shuffle off this mortal coil. It’s our way of saying, “I was here. I made a difference.” Isn’t that what those ancient civilizations did when they built the pyramids or left those giant monolithic statues on Rapa Nui?

Selfies may be a bit more transient than the Great Pyramid of Giza, but they don’t take twenty years to create, and you don’t have to be a pharaoh. Or a narcissist.

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