Technology vs Society: Selfies

This month’s cultural piece is on ‘Selfies’ and the suggested rise of narcissism an excessive amount of the selfie culture creates.


There’ve been a number of posts on this topic over the past couple of years, however a recent development in technology really did spark the thought in my mind that cried “Ok, surely this is enough now.”

Many articles I’ve read on the topic suggest social platforms and mobile apps such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as the technology that facilitates their use i.e. smartphones, digital cameras etc. encourage and are increasing the levels of narcissism found in society today. However, I want to look at it from a different angle and ask the question:

Is technology creating a society of narcissists, or is technology merely a reflection of the narcissism already deep-seated in society?

SAMSUNG “NX mini” poster campaign by Leo Burnett Switzerland

It was at the point of receiving a Yo! from BBC Trending which reported the recent rise in popularity of the wonderful selfie sticks that I really began to think about the selfie phenomena further. I mean yes if taking a picture whilst on holiday, why wouldn’t you want to ensure you can capture the scene behind you without having to bother a stranger to take the pic; however is it really that important?

Are we just able to display our inner narcissist with greater ease and through more outlets?

Narcissus by Caravaggio, circa 1597

Well, selfie sticks are great when looking into the wider creative uses, but are we getting a tad narcissitic? Looking into this phenomena further there have always been great levels of self-interest found in society dating back to the days of Narcissus himself.

For anyone unfamiliar with the tale, the handsome Greek fellow was so indifferent and disdainful toward others that the Greek Gods gave him the punishment of falling in love with his own image. Besotted by his looks he was unable to pull away from his own reflection in a pool of water and thus wasted away to death.

And what about the great markers of wealth, success and power portrait paintings and sculptures have symbolised for thousands of centuries; and more relatively, the self-portrait paintings really came into play in the Early Renaissance circa 14–17th Centuries, in which artists depict themselves as the main subject or important characters in their work.

Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo, 1940

Seeing the case of a young man no longer able to function in everyday society because of his addiction to selfies, taking over 200 a day, I just think straight back to Narcissus. Seeing a young woman’s instagram account full of selfies and photos of herself in social groups taking centre-stage, or closest to camera (depicting herself as the main subject or most important character in the photo), puts me in mind of Frida Kahlo and the many self-portrait pictures she painted with herself as centre stage in the composition as self-expression and exploration.

We as a society have long been in interested in exploring self, and understanding how we project ourselves to others. So is the core of selfie behaviour any new crazy phenomena really? I doubt it. However, I would be more than happy and probably agree that a line probably should be drawn somewhere, and I reckon with the ‘Belfie Stick’.

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Twitter: @_naomiclarissa

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