BY: PHILIPPE DE JOCAS
In the spring of 2012, a strange new trend slowly began to creep into the fabric of our society. Like some sort of infectious virus, gradually gaining more and more steam, this odd behavioural pattern soon enthralled millions of people…for good or for ill.
I speak, of course, of the selfie. Beginning as an innocuous way to quickly grab a snapshot of yourself on the go, the selfie trend quickly snowballed into the centre of our cultural zeitgeist. It wasn’t long until the market picked up on the selfie trend and began finding ways to capitalize on it. Nowadays, you can’t swing a dead phone without finding selfie paraphernalia: selfie sticks, selfie software, selfie stations. The selfie might just be our Charleston – a brief generational trend that soon dies off, living on in period pieces – but the nature of the Internet, where everything stays permanent and memes spread like a bad cold, suggests otherwise.
The nature of the selfie, and its reception amongst young punks and old fogies, suggested a simple axiom: you either get the selfie…or you don’t. Baby boomers and their ilk, in particular, seemed to be unable to grasp the selfie. Countless think pieces about the etymology and origins of the selfie sprang up, sometimes muddling up the facts to prove a point. To those who didn’t get the selfie, taking a picture of one’s self soon became the new shorthand for vanity and narcissism.
But do even we, the generation that came up with the selfie, really get the concept anymore? Scientists and psychologists don’t know. Our increasingly detached and ironic culture continually gnaws at its own tail; our motivations behind selfie-taking surely stem from an urge that runs far deeper than a simple desire to take pictures of one’s face. Researchers at the University of Munich recently decided to see how deep the rabbit hole goes as they conducted a study of selfie takers, exploring some of their habits and motivations. Scientists conducted several surveys with participants, aiming to answer a few simple questions:
“How often do you take selfies?”
“What kind of media do you use to post selfies?”
“What do you think about selfies?”
“Would you prefer more or less selfies in social media?”
The results didn’t quite line up with what researchers expected. More than 77 per cent of participants claimed that they took selfies on a monthly basis. More interesting than that, however, was the lens of perception that people filtered other’s selfies through. Individuals consistently judged their own selfies as “authentic” and “self-ironic”…but in the same breath disparaged other selfie-takers as “inauthentic” and “self-promotional.” In other words, their own selfies were the only ones that really mattered in their opinion.
Our perceptions of selfies serve as a classic example of the Dunning-Kreuger effect in action – a psychological behavioural theorem that boils down to the idea that we unconsciously rank ourselves as being higher, or better, or more special than everyone else. A simpler name: self-serving bias.
The report itself does not condone or condemn the use of selfies. Its researchers have stated that they hope that the results of the survey can make a difference regarding our sometimes cavalier use of social media, encouraging users to stop, think, and filter before they post photos online. In an era where a drunken selfie can have dire consequences, it’s good advice to live by. Now pass me that selfie stick.