Last November, Oxford Dictionaries announced “selfie” as its international Word of the Year 2013, an award given to either a word or expression that has attracted a great deal of interest during the year. Its research reveals that the frequency of the word “selfie” in the English language has increased by 17,000 percent since late 2012.
Searching #selfie on Instagram renders 97,032,845 posts, and is followed closely by related hashtags such as #selfiesunday, #selfienation, #selfiesfordays and #selfiecentral.
For $1.29, fans of the songwriting duo The Chainsmokers can download their #14 song on iTunes, “#SELFIE.” The song tops the charts with profound lyrical insights such as “But first, let me take a selfie,” “Can you guys help me pick a filter? I don’t know if I should go with XX Pro or Valencia, I wanna look tan,” “What should my caption be?” and “I only got 10 likes in the last five minutes, do you think I should take it down?”
I wish I were making these things up.
The Huffington Post recently reported on Britain’s first victim of a selfie addiction with a headline that reads, “Selfie Addiction Is No Laughing Matter, Psychiatrists Say.” Nineteen-year-old Danny Bowman allegedly dropped out of school and did not leave his house for six months in pursuit of capturing the perfect selfie. He apparently dedicated about 10 hours a day taking up to 200 pictures of himself on his iPhone. Unsatisfied with his efforts, Bowman attempted to take his own life.
The article quotes psychiatrist Dr. David Veale, whose clinic treated Bowman’s addiction, remarking, “Danny’s case is particularly extreme, but this is a serious problem. It’s not a vanity issue. It’s a mental health one which has an extremely high suicide rate.”
It is apparent that “selfies’” sovereignty will outlive its allotted year-long reign, as it has warranted a chart-topping ballad and has been allocated an entire day on Instagram in its dedication. The downside is that though amusing and often celebrated, “selfies” are yet another societal trend that while seemingly entertaining and inconsequential, can be taken to toxic extremes.
With the popularity of selfies and Instagram came the subsequent invention of apps like Skinnee Pix, which can trim anywhere from five to 15 pounds of virtual fat off your selfies — simply exacerbating the issue at hand. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Pamela Rutledge explains that taking selfies can be detrimental to a person’s mental health and that indulging in them is indicative of narcissism, low self-esteem, attention-seeking behavior and self-indulgence.
The idea that taking selfies may possibly be responsible for a variety of troubling mental health issues will likely not be met with acceptance by a society enthralled by technology and personal gadgets. Rutledge mentions that some experts and physicians even feel that society is collectively engaged in deep denial about how dangerous it is to interact with screens without setting limits on how much time is spent doing so — and I would not disagree.
Her concession to “put aside your anxieties over rampant narcissism and the moral decline of the digital generation and exhale … like every trend, the behavior will recede when the excitement and newness wears off,” however, I take issue with.
Selfies are just the most recent installment of technological trends, and when its “excitement and newness wears off” another social media craze or application is bound to take its place. Though media fads are nothing new to American society, the intense vulnerability and insecurity that social networking and personal technologies induce is both alarming and troubling. Are we setting the stage for coming generations to be hypersensitive to and misunderstanding of communication, self-representation, self-indulgence and their appearance?
Our generation inherited these technologies in our teens, but how will it affect the 5 and 6-year-old children who already know how to take selfies on their parents’ Macbooks, iPads and iPhones? Will we raise children who are permanently fixated on themselves, seeking self-validation through ‘likes’ rather than intellect or wit, capturing “the moment” by recording simply their own appearance and perpetually living out of touch with their surroundings?
Lauren McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.