What started as a harmless fun activity during vacations has grown into a global obsession that is beginning to turn into something quite sinister and disturbing: the selfie! Recent horror stories of how the growing obsession with selfie-taking has led teenagers to even take selfies at gruesome accident sites have highlighted once more how selfies are seriously harming society in general and young people in particular.
What was unthinkable only a few years ago – one only has to think of the global outrage caused by photographs French paparazzi took of Princess Diana’s motor accident site in Paris – is now common practice. The more gruesome the background, the more teenagers seem to enjoy taking pictures of themselves and post them online. The reason? The get-famous-quick-without-talent-and-hard-work syndrome that has gripped the world, ever since the first auditions for shows like “American Idol” “Britain has Talent” or “The X-Factor” have polluted our TV screens. But it is also a growing obsession with body image that prompts millions of Internet users each day to post selfies – often several times a day – online.
What are we turning into?
What people who have lost the capacity for empathy and compassion turn into, was aptly and shockingly highlighted in Anthony Burgess’s novel Clockwork Orange. Smartphone selfies are already being linked to mental health conditions such as extreme narcissism and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.Psychiatrist Dr David Veal explained the phenomenon’s inevitable results. “Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites. Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to help a patient to recognize the reasons for his or her compulsive behavior and then to learn how to moderate it,” he said in an interview with the British newspaper The Sunday Mirror.
Wannabes who don’t want to put in the work
A growing number of psychologists believe selfies are responsible for increases in the statistics for addiction, mental illness, suicide and narcissism. The case of British teenager Danny Bowman, who tried to kill himself simply because he hadn’t taken the “perfect” selfie, highlights the urgency that our kids must learn to do something more proactive with their time than stare at themselves through the viewfinder of their Smartphones. Bowman reputedly spent up to 10 hours a day taking 200 selfies on average to achieve the perfect shot. After his mom discovered him just in time – he’d taken an overdose – Danny stated in an interview with The Sunday Mirror: “I was constantly in search of taking the perfect selfie and when I realized I couldn’t, I wanted to die. I lost my friends, my education, my health and almost my life.” He is now being treated for technology addiction, OCD and Body Dysmorphic Disorder at the Maudsley Hospital in London, where his therapy involves removing his iPhone for intervals of 10 minutes, then to 30 minutes before taking it away for a whole hour.
Less tweeting, more living
Already public health officials in the UK are warning that people’s addiction to cruising social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook has turned into an illness that sends 100 patients a year to seek treatment. They are no longer living their lives having real experiences; they simply exist to tweet about every nasal hair they’re growing and every breath they take. Expert Pamela Rutledge stated in Psychology Today: “Selfies frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence or attention-seeking social dependence that raises the damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t spectre of either narcissism or very low self-esteem.” Addicts like Bowman want to be famous and seek attention, but they don’t want to put in any work to hone a talent they might possess – the public perception of pop stars, supermodels and actors in the media is that these people hopped out of an egg, perfectly formed and utterly beautiful and talented, and they stay in this air-brushed condition for the remainder of their careers. Nobody mentions how long it may take to make Beyoncé or Kim Kardashian look this perfect every day, how many hours they have to spend in the gym to look so fit, and how much plastic surgery goes on behind the closed doors of Hollywood’s most expensive private clinics.
Technology should help mankind to improve, not make us worse than we already are
Selfies have been appearing since 2004, but it was the introduction of Smartphones, especially the iPhone 4, that allowed people to use front-facing cameras on go selfie mad from 2010 onward. The latest annual Ofcom communications report shows that 60% of Britain’s mobile phone users now own a Smartphone. Another recent survey, conducted among more than 800 teenagers by Pew Research Center in the US, discovered that 91% uploaded pictures of themselves online, an increase from 79% in 2006.
Seeking approval from one’s peers by posting selfies is one thing, but many disgruntled teens are using selfies to bully others, taking revenge for perceived wrongs with increasingly tragic consequences. Cyber bullying is on the rise. Taking a selfie with a distraught fellow student or classmate who has just received a bullying text message is just one example of the Clockwork Orange effect selfies have on society. The increase of digital narcissism puts more and more pressure on young people to achieve unattainable goals. They eventually despair when they cannot look like the latest pop sensation, supermodel or famous actor. Unfortunately, the selfie-taking addiction also comes with a total lack of “work ethic”. The wannabe’s expectation of high entitlement and “can’t be bothered to work for it” attitude are lethal, especially when this stance on life and self is constantly reinforced and rewarded by other social media addicts. This distortion of reality does nothing but consolidate narcissism and delusions of grandeur that are setting up young people to fail utterly in life.