With the rise of social media, people everywhere are constantly updating each other on their activities, thoughts, and ideas via status updates and photo posts.
Social media has also contributed to the rise of the “selfie”—a picture taken of oneself that is subsequently uploaded to social media sites. There is no rhyme or reason to the selfie, and there are no rules to follow. Some selfies are close-up shots, others catch a glimpse of the photographer’s arm as they hold their device up to snap the shot. Some are photos of reflections in order to capture the photographer’s full body. Regardless of the style, selfies are incredibly popular, particularly among 18 to 34 year olds, who tend to be heavily inundated with technology relative to older generations.
The selfie phenomenon seems to have emerged out of nowhere, but the presence of social media and the Internet is most likely to blame. Social media tends to be the biggest influence on selfie culture, and sharing a photo of oneself has become an almost daily occurrence. While everyone’s motivations for this are different, psychologists and social theorists have examined the different psychological factors that drive people to take selfies and post them on the Internet. The most common theories behind selfie motivation include:
- To get attention: Some people are driven simply by the number of “likes” and comments they receive. Social media provides instant gratification, and watching those numbers grow on a photo is an easy way to boost one’s ego and fish for compliments.
- To show off: It is natural to want to share one’s achievements. For some, reaching for their phone and snapping a selfie to show off is a natural response. This allows the individual to document their achievements while simultaneously receiving praise from peers.
- To get a person’s attention: As strange as it may sound, selfies have become a way to flirt with another person. For those too shy to approach their crush in person, they can share alluring selfies to garner attention, or comment on others’ selfies to express their interest.
- Boredom: Some people simply take selfies because they have nothing else to do. They may be at home, school, or work, but if there’s nothing better to do, taking selfies is a way to pass the time.
- Just for fun: Some people take selfies just because they find it fun. Social media is exciting, and what better way to be social than through uploading selfies. There is no real motivation – it is just a way to document one’s life.
What’s the Concern with Selfies?
While the reasons to take selfies may seem mild and harmless, selfie culture has given way to more dangerous behaviors. People often look to take their selfies to the next level. According to reports, 12 people have died so far in 2015 while taking selfies. That is more than the eight people that have been killed in shark attacks this year. In an effort to impress friends and strangers alike, people willingly put themselves in dangerous situations just in order to take an amazing selfie. Most selfie-related deaths involve falling from a height or being struck by a moving vehicle; however, deaths have occurred in a number of locations. One woman fell to her death while trying to take a selfie near a rock face, while another tourist was gored to death while attempting to take a selfie during a bull run. People have died taking photos with wild animals, by coming into contact with live wires, and even while holding a live grenade with the pin pulled out.
These examples are some of the worst-case scenarios, but engaging in selfie culture could point to psychological troubles. Selfie addiction is already affecting many people who cannot resist taking that perfect photo for social media. Many with selfie addictions are being diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. Researchers have also found that those with certain narcissistic traits post more frequently on social media sites than others.
Selfie addiction may not be so surprising considering the emergence of technology addiction, including addiction to Facebook, Instagram, and other forms of social media. The two often go hand-in-hand. Countless people are seeking treatment for technology addiction, as it can impair a person’s quality of life just as much as other forms of addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals recognize the reasons for these compulsive behaviors and serves as a stepping stone in moderating use. Our lives are so dependent on technology for countless needs that it would be unreasonable to expect a person to completely abstain from use. With technology addiction, treatment is centered around developing healthy relationships with devices, social media, and other outlets.