Thursday, July 25, 2013

Seth and the Selfies

As it turns out, there was already an invented word for the unusual phenomenon I have been observing on Facebook which is the influx of self portraits taken by people on a DAILY basis on almost every single activity of their lives, the selfie - a new term for the self portrait.

While it is quite easy to associate this behavior as self absorbed and narcissistic, I decided to do a little research online if there are other souls like I am who personally think this is fucking annoying or is there really a scientifically valid explanation for it. Bring it on.

Digital cameras on phones are not new. Websites that allow sharing of photos isn't new. Online profiles and sharing content isn't new either. So where in the world did it get into the water or the wind that it is now perfectly acceptable to show in photos your cat, your dog, what you ate/drank, and a million or so selfies?! 

I have yet to understand why this concept was mass produced.

According to some authors, this idea even dates back centuries ago when portraits were done through paint, charcoal, or any other medium. I could only imagine how expensive and exhausting that would be, especially to hold a position for so long so that the artist can simply capture the moment. 

Fast forward to the invention of the camera and film, as a child born in the 80's, pictures were only saved for special occasions and trips. The actual context created by the background is just as important as your position in the photo. The expense might have been cheaper compared to a painter, but the cost of film, developing, printing to size cannot be overlooked. In addition, you have to wait for days and rush will cost you extra. Back then, there was no way to tell if you were indeed successful in capturing the moment until the last two phases were completed. Of course, no fancy camera and expensive film is immune to one minor defect, the actual user or the availability of another person to take that snapshot of you.

Enter the internet. Back then, it was already expensive to actually own a personal computer, let alone the cost to maintain a landline service plus the cost of a prepaid dial up card (ahhh... off peak hours flashbacks coming in... and the scratchy sound of the modem attempting to connect?).

Even when there were websites before, people had to hurdle yet another obstacle. You either need an excellent scanner, image resolution, finding the correct cables to sync, and storage/card reading devices. People were also quite conscious then how much personal stuff they wish to post in fear of stolen identities. 

The millenial year. Digital cameras get cheaper with higher resolutions. More wireless transfer and share options. Free wifi and cheap home internet. Smart phones and tablets with free apps for instant sharing. We are now living in hyper-connected, over-shared times.

The third most frequently used hashtag on Instagram is #me. Under it, you'll find more than 90 million self-portraits taken primarily by younger users, very few of them with any irony, or even much creativity. The practice of freezing and sharing our thinnest slices of life has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term selfie as a possible addition. Time magazine included the selfie in its Top 10 buzzwords of 2012 (at No. 9) and New York magazine's The Cut blog declared in April: "Ugly Is the New Pretty: How Unattractive Selfies Took Over the Internet."On Instagram alone, there's #selfiesunday, along with related tags where millions of selfies land daily. 

OK... So there is indeed data to show that selfies are not just happening locally, as the infamous "jejemon" language did, and it has become a global trend.

Does the fact that so many people are doing it makes it right? There has to be a law regulating the number of selfies!? Charot.

Let me get this straight, there is nothing inherently wrong with publishing self portraits. However, the effort exerted on scrolling down my newsfeed and seeing someone's face on a regular basis with no significant change from the day before, just feels like being smothered. In an age of hyper sharing and high engagement, how has social media affected our self image?

One author argued that, one way to understand selfies is that you might have to consider the life the person has gone through. There must be a story behind it. As a kid, he must've struggled with weight loss and now he can't stop himself flaunting his abs? Maybe someone used to dream about being a model? It could be that this time he can afford better clothes or travel and that is an upgrade in his former lifestyle?

... and it hit me. I too was flaunting my figure at the time when I did felt good about how I looked and how many guys were actually lining up to meet me? Hmmmm...

So is it all about getting validation and approval from people? 

Krista Peck, M.S., says, “Compliments are one of the most extraordinary components of social life. People like compliments; that’s not rocket science. Compliments help increase self-esteem — and who isn’t looking to feel better about themselves?” Hell, the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle industries are marketed on desires to look and feel better. So to have several hundreds or even thousands of people comment, share, or like what you’re posting, creating, or featuring is extremely validating (thus explaining online celebrities). Also, when we see others exhibiting certain behaviors, they can become tempting to try as a way of being accepted by the group; a form of peer pressure, which makes sense, since we’re social beings.

But far from being just about human connection, selfies can be a competitive request for approval, according to psychologist Bill Campos. Campos, who specialises in teen and relationship issues, likens selfies to beauty pageants, “a drive to get feedback to validate ourselves....and provide mass meaning to what used to be in smaller contained mediums”.  The psychologist has likened the behavior with online gambling, noting the instant access can be habit forming with each hit of validation feeding the poser in record time. Feel low? Post a picture – each supportive click will boost the subject’s mood. The posers can end up not learning how to boost their confidence by themselves, instead placing their happiness in the clicks of others.

While selfies have become the digital cultural phenomenon of the moment, they are fleeting. As with platforms, memes, and trending topics, one would hope the selfie phenomenon would die, being replaced by something more meaningful.

I still haven't changed my mind about hating overdone selfies. Perhaps what I learned is how to tolerate them, and how to control them from bombarding my screen.

... and besides, since they willingly post it online, I am equally free to like, comment, and share as much as they do, especially when I am in a bitchy mood.




  1. We have the same flow of understanding this. At first I too was really irritated by self portraits.. I mean, cmon! everyday kelangan talaga may pic ka ng sarili mo? Anong point? para saan? bakit? Yan yung mga tanong ko sa kanila but then something you said hit me (gaya gaya. hehe) I overlooked their history. para sa isang frustrated psychologist like me, nakalimutan kong isipin yung background nila.

    I always say this to myself whenever I feel judging people by the way they portray their self in public "You have to dig deeper for you to understand them" and this time I forgot to dig deeper.

    Thanks for reminding me :)

  2. Nga pala pinaka importane dito yung pag alala ko sa..........

    ISP bonanza.


  3. I was also a culprit of this before. Back when I was recovering from my pimply stage. I guess I was looking for validation that I look okay after that horrible phase. I took down some of the pictures I‘ve uploadedd when I realize there‘s too much.

  4. Naunahan ako sa "compliment" kyeme. hahahaha

  5. An occasional selfie or two, I can tolerate; in fact, I am even guilty of posting several before. What I noticed though is that only very few of my FB contacts post a lot of selfies. Ganyan siguro kung mga matatanda na ang mga peers mo, hahaha. My friends and I are just not up to showing our expanding girths in their full glory, hahaha.

  6. The more selfies you post online, the more likely it shows your insecure/lonely side.

    Agree, selfies is a form of validation.

  7. Gaya ng 'right to freedom of information', meron ding tayong lahat ng 'right to take a selfie'. Hahaha. Friendster days pa lang, uso na yan, nung magsimulang magkaroon ng camera ang mga cellphones. Wala pa nga lang formal term ang 'selfie' noon.