There was a link doing the rounds a few weeks ago with the headline: Scientists Link Selfies to Narcissism, Addiction, and Mental Illness. The article claimed that the growing trend of taking smartphone selfies is linked to mental health conditions that focus on a person’s obsession with looks.
Around the same time, another message went viral. This one claiming that the American Psychiatric Association had officially (yes, officially) classed the taking of selfies as a disorder it was calling ‘selfitis’. This, too, was a hoax.
I have no problem with selfies – I’ve been known to waste more than a few minutes in the privacy of my kitchen trying in vain to capture the beauty within on my smartphone. I’ve even set my camera on a timer in an attempt to rid my selfies of the tell-tale outstretched arm. And while I have had some luck, it’s not the sort of luck I’d like to take to the racetrack. One winning photo for every 55 or so taken isn’t exactly great odds. With each dud photo I get, I find something to be critical of. It’s certainly not healthy or good for me but that doesn’t stop me indulging every six months or so when I need a new profile picture for something or other. That’s me; others with a better developed self-image don’t seem to be exposed at all.
What bothers me about selfies though, is that taking them when you’re out and about in public robs you of the moment. Instead of enjoying what you’re doing, where you are, who you’re with, you’re posing – focusing on yourself.
I was in Greece earlier this month and saw those new-fangled rod cameras for the first time. You know them? Tiny digital cameras on the end of a collapsible rod that you stretch out in front of you to take a selfie? Now, it’s hard to imagine anything competing with the Parthenon for attention, but the day I was there it had serious competition. I was standing in front of this fantastic testimony to man’s creativity and architectural genius, and instead of soaking it all in, I was distracted by seven different people posing for selfies in my immediate vicinity. They were so busy taking photos of themselves that I doubt very much if they saw anything of what was around them.
Over lunch later, I was highly amused by the antics of a couple sitting at the table below us. Both sat down and immediately she took out her phone and proceeded to take selfies (a chronic waste of a boyfriend/husband methinks). On the ferry to Aegina, I watched a dad take charge of the two kids while mum spent a good twenty minutes trying to get just the right selfie. I kid you not.
I had thought that this might have been a Greek thing, something that happens when you overdose on souvlaki and ouzo, but I was wrong. The rods have arrived in Budapest, too. Just last week, while out and about admiring the city in all its splendour (I might have my quibbles with the government, but hat’s off to Orban et al. for the facelift Budapest has received – she’s looking amazing) I saw many people so busy taking selfies that they didn’t seem to notice the glorious rebirth of the Castle Bazaar. The gleaming walls of Parlament were lost on them. And as for the night views across the Danube… wasted.
Selfies have their moments, true. But at what cost? Selfitis might not yet be a disorder, but is it already in the frame?
First published in the Budapest Times 29 August 2014