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.

IMG_4216 (800x600)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, IMG_4202 (800x600) (800x600)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 IMG_4208 (800x600)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.

IMG_3853 (600x800)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.

IMG_3917 (800x600)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

No ‘i’ in Parlament

A long threatening came at last. For five years now, I’ve been walking by the line of tourists queuing up for a tour of the Parlament Building and each time I’ve made a mental note to self to do it. One day. Needless to say, I never got around to making the required reservation and left it to the inimitable MI to surprise me one Friday.

I’d heard from SJ that the place was amazing and even though I know this particular North American not to be given to wanton bouts of exaggeration, I wasn’t at all prepared for the sheer grandeur of the place. We were deluged with the facts and figures that these types of tours depend on for their sustenance. The only one that stuck in my brain (and is probably somewhat indicative of the type of brain my head houses) is that this particular chandelier has 205 light bulbs and to change one, technicians have to enter from the outside through the roof.

Constructed between 1884 and 1904, the building was designed in mock Gothic style has has many similarities to the Palace of Westminster, in London. It’s the third largest parliament building in the world. It has 691 rooms (200 of which are offices) and so plenty of room for a guest or two. About 1000 people were involved in the construction, which used 40 million bricks, half a million precious stones and 40 kg (81 lb) of gold. Perhaps shaving some of the wallpaper might help reduce the national debt. Just an idea. And I can’t say that I wasn’t tempted.

One of the oddities of the place (and there had to be a least one) is the numbered cigar holders outside the voting chamber. Delegates would go inside to vote and leave their cigars outside, taking note of their numbered slot. Should the speech go on so long that their cigar burned out, it was said to have been ‘worth a havana’. I wonder how many political speeches these days would even be worth a Marlboro?
It truly is a magnificent building and well worth the 45 minutes it takes to tour it. Holders of an EU passport are allowed free entry. All others need to cough up a hefty 3500 huf ($15 / €12). The system outside is a little crazy but then what bureaucratic system in Hungary doesn’t have ‘mental’ somewhere in its descriptive. You book online and print your reservation – then you skip the first queue and go inside to get your ticket. Then you come back out and join the second queue for your tour – French, English, German – whatever is on offer. One to be added to the ‘what to do with visitors’ programme.