Selfie stick: Self-destructive narcissism or harmless way to have fun?

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: May 17, 2015 11:24 IST

No matter where you go or what you do, there's no getting away from death, taxes and selfie-sticks. Death you can't escape, and avoiding taxation brings with it the threat of imprisonment. Which leaves many of us wondering why selfie-sticks have become indispensable for millions who own a smartphone and can hold a smile for 10 seconds.

Over the past week, I've spotted more couples holding on to selfie-sticks than their partners. I saw a young dad letting go of his child in a crowded place -- all for 10 minutes, thankfully -- because he needed both hands free to get the angle of the selfie-stick just right. And a teen walked into a lamppost because she was absorbed in preening for her smartphone.

Though taking photos of yourself with your dinky camera has been around for a few years -- 'selfie' was the Oxford Dictionary word of the year in 2013 -- the trend is riding the social media wave to become become inescapable.

What's driving millions to spend a better part of their day looking at the world as a series of snapshots superimposed with their own cheery face with unenviable enthusiasm? Is it an unnatural obsession with oneself bordering on self-destructive narcissism or simply a harmless, inexpensive and fun way to share your life with people you know or love?

Please like me
Some psychologists believe that taking photos of oneself and posting them online exposes the basic human desire to be relevant. Tweeting or posting selfies on Facebook or Instagram helps people share their lives with their group of followers or friends who are likely to share similar interests. Getting retweeted or liked is the icing on the cake -- it validates the person's action and improves self-esteem, urging them to repeat the behaviour.

Appreciation tops the list of things employees value in the workplace, reported a survey of more than one lakh people in the US and Canada. The survey found that 94.4% of the happiest employees felt their bosses appreciated their work, compared to only 2.4% of disgruntled employees.

The situation, when applied to people too busy to keep up with all their rapidly increasing circle of acquaintances on social media, explains why posting selfies and changing status updates works is effective to reach out to and get a response from many people within minutes.

We all need a real friend
Taking and sharing selfies is harmless as long it doesn't distract you from real sharing with friends and family. Experts say social media creates the semblance of being connected and makes people feel they are engaging with others without really doing so. Since both the posts and responses are unidimensional, people who see the photos often give a careless response, which leads to social isolation of both parties.

While taking or posting selfies does not directly lead to loneliness or depression, it helps mask it. Sharing experiences is more engaging and leaves a far more lasting impression than posting photos people see and dismiss.

Parallel universe
Selfies help people portray a facet of themselves that may or may not be true. For some, the need to be noticed urges them to do inspiring things, while for others, it just helps them hide an embarrassing aspect of their lives.

In some cases, it helps them get through their lives. In others, it buries them deeper in their misery. For example, it's easy for a depressed person to create a parallel world where the sun shines and they feel buoyed and upbeat. On the other hand, it's more difficult to mask feelings while speaking to someone who is empathetic and understanding, which helps strengthen coping mechanisms needed to ride crises unscathed.

What it says about you
A selfie, insist its fans, is an expression of their identity identity and worldview. It's way of capturing a moment that could be of relevance to them, socially, emotionally or economically.

What they don't know is it also tells the world a lot about them. It tells people which traits you want to highlight (party/sporty person, geek, nerd), your insecurities (obsessed with how you look), your interests (things you do, places visited, knowledge) etc.

You may love them or simply love to hate them, but selfies are here to stay. Like everything else, they become a problem only when misused or overused.

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