We’ve probably all taken a selfie at some point. It’s become second nature for anyone with a phone and appears to be the only way of making oneself appear popular on social media. The F.O.M.O. (Fear of missing out) is real. Yet with each selfie we take, are we not blatantly admitting to our own narcissistic values?
When I’m with friends, I usually end up becoming the designated photographer. If there’s a picture to be taken, chances are I’m on the other side of the camera, coordinating a montage of smiling faces. Once the photo is taken, everyone immediately rushes over to look at the photograph, promptly followed by one of the most aggravating questions on the face of the planet: “Can you send that to me?” A seemingly harmless question that reduces my worth to a single photo. Extreme, I know, but when you’re always the one taking the picture you can’t help but feel… disposable.
But now, thanks to a wonderfully simple invention, for only 5 euros ($7.50) this can be avoided. I’m more ashamed than I’d like to admit that I’ve actually purchased a selfie stick. I gave it to a friend as a birthday gift thinking it was a novelty gift with mild comedic amusement. This act has now become one of my largest regrets. Excuse me, but selfie sticks are an abomination.
They’re everywhere. London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Budapest; name a city and they’re probably just as infested. It appears that any location with any degree of tourism is readily selling them, so should any tourist forget to pack one, the street vendors have got you covered. To make matters worse, they’re cheap. Bear with me while I highlight why they’re so awful. Remember, this is just one traveller’s opinion (and clearly, I’m in the minority, considering their popularity).
The Obvious Reasons
Selfie sticks look ridiculous. There, I said it. While people stand there with a metal arm extension holding their phones, they just look so… Silly. In addition to this, you are now hitting random strangers left right and centre, essentially just getting in the way of every- and any-one. If you’ve never actually seen one in use, they’re much longer than I’d previously imagined and without proper care these bad boys will get you into some serious trouble. And now that the tourist is in plain sight taking a photo of themselves, they’ve now labeled themselves as foreign and put their $500+ cell phones on display for the friendly pickpockets in the area to see. If they’re lucky they might even get a picture of the thief as their phones are being stolen, but as long as you can still upload it to Facebook, who cares, right?
The Intellectual Reasons
I once had a professor spend an entire lecture comparing our social media habits to those of major religious beliefs. He was able to convince us all that social media was merely the epitome of a personal shrine and drew attention to the one and only truth about our profiles: No one views or thinks about your profile as much as you do.
*Note: it was at this point in time that I realized how much I dislike social media and deleted both my Facebook and Twitter. Ironically, I have an Instagram account from which I strive not to achieve personal validation, but instead I use it as encouragement to continue taking and editing photos.*
Now, expand my professor’s ideas to include selfie sticks and you’ll notice that we now hop on planes, travel halfway across the world to take a picture of ourselves and post it to our profiles, which we will ultimately be the only ones obsessing over. We are no longer required to have any human interaction on our travels (besides the on-location selfie stick purchase: estimated time talking to stranger: 5 seconds). The human race has never been so connected, yet here we are remaining out of touch and isolated. It’s especially sad, because, more and more, traveling has become about the hunt for the perfect picture, making life the ultimate photo scavenger hunt. When did people and experiences become less valuable than profiles and your like-count?
While it’s difficult to find scientific evidence saying selfie sticks cause lasting effects, if we can agree that they’re tied to narcissism, there’s plenty. Narcissistic behaviour permeates every aspect of an individual’s life. In relationships, narcissists will not compromise. Studies have actually shown that the outcome of this has more effect on the people surrounding the narcissist, resulting in increases of both physical and mental stress. These stresses have been linked to the increase of substance dependency, classifying narcissism as addictive behaviour.
It’s also been suggested that increased narcissistic tendencies decreases their capacity for empathy making it likely for them to “experience interpersonal failures in their private, precessional, and personal lives”(Gabard et al, 2013). Empathy was a large topic in medical school education as it was hypothesized that improved technologies lead doctors to become less empathetic towards their patients, viewing them as machines more than humans. Med schools now stress empathy training in classes to ensure that doctors remain understanding of the situations their patients are in.
Perhaps one of the most surprising things I’ve found while researching the effects of selfie sticks is that they’re becoming banned at some sites. South Korea has actually begun regulating selfie stick sales, making the use and sales of uncertified sticks illegal (BBC News). While there hasn’t been any reported repercussions for selling the now illegal sticks, it’s interesting to see that they’re being regulated in the first place.
Think Twice About That Selfie Stick
I’m not saying that everyone who uses a selfie stick is an awful person, and there are obviously reasons they are so popular; everyone loves to have a photo (or a billion) that has their smiling face in a new place. But hopefully I’ve share why we might think twice about pulling a selfie stick out and taking a picture of yourself. I’ve come to realize I’d much rather remain the designated photographer, provided I never need to see another selfie stick again. If you’re really desperate to be in a picture, just ask someone else to take it for you – and if you happen to make a single friend on your travels, you’ll have proven me wrong and restored my faith in humanity. Under no circumstance should a selfie stick become culturally acceptable, if only for the reason that it would be awfully embarrassing to explain to your grandchildren that you went to Paris to take a picture of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower, for 50 likes on Facebook.
*Gabard, D. L., Lowe, D. L., Deusinger, S. S., Stelzner, D. M., & Crandall, S. J. (2013). Analysis of empathy in doctor of physical therapy students: A multi-site study. Journal of Allied Health, 42(1), 10.