They’ve been linked to narcissism, mental health issues, selfishness and obsessive compulsive disorder, but whatever bad press they’ve had to endure, the selfie trend seems to have weathered the storm. Social media is still teeming with pouts and poses, ‘hashtag selfie’ accompanying snapshots of faces from every conceivable angle across every conceivable platform. Even politicians and public figures are getting in on the act, with Obama’s selfie trending for months and the most popular tweet of all time being the infamous Oscar selfie.
In response to the Selfie epidemic, a much talked about exhibition called ‘Monoculture’ at the Edinburgh arts festival brings an uncomfortable sense of perspective to society’s favourite new pastime. Created by artist Tamsyn Challenger the exhibition uses monoculture crop farming as a metaphor for Selfies, warning that the trend may have gone too far. The display, which is both chilling and mesmerising, prompts one to think about whether it is healthy for our cultural and physical contributions to be a monoculture. ‘What will happen to our minds and bodies if what we input has no variety?’ Challenger asks.
Social media, and our constant exposure to it, is accepted as having a huge impact on the way we think, our ideas and perceptions about the world around us and how we process information. What Challenger suggests is that social media trends are turning us into thought lemmings, eroding our individualism with constant exposure to more of the same. If the selfie trend is anything to go by, Challenger certainly has a point and her Monoculture exhibition says it loud and clear. In one of the displays, a medieval torture chamber is depicted in Facebook blue with stocks that bare the message: ‘Take your Selfie here’ and have an arm hole large enough to allow one to reach through and snap a photo. The leg stocks, which invoke a sense of suffocation, have ‘like’ scrawled across them, conveying her message loud and clear. Also included is a breaking wheel – a medieval implement used to restrain prisoners while they were bludgeoned to death – displayed at waist height with the words ‘”Please love me/Do not exceed 140 characters” communicating her overarching message: the quest for approval in a world where we have duplicated our expressions of personality is a death trap.
But are selfies really all bad? Heinz Kohut, a famed Viennese doctor, promoted the benefits of what he termed ‘good narcissism’ and cited that it made people happier and more productive. There is no denying that millennials certainly seem more enamoured with themselves than the youths of yesteryear, but perhaps this comes with a silver lining. Yes, we are more narcissistic than past generations and yes we may never get over our egos, but with this comes an increasing amount of receptivity, confidence and openness. Could it be possible that we are more honest, self-assured and happy than past generations as well?
If this is indeed the case then concerned social commentators beg that we find new ways of expressing our new-found confidence. The problem is not that we’re celebrating ourselves, they say, the problem is that we’re all doing it in exactly the same way. Variety is the spice of life, or at least the key to a healthier collective intellect. Whatever your opinion on what the Selfie says about society at large, what we can take away from it is this: love or hate them, we can certainly learn from them.
Next time you take to social media, keep your sense of self assuredness and by all means revel in your likes, but also keep in mind that you are part of a global social network – and your input has the potential to either perpetuate the monoculture, or to diversify, adjust and improve it.
A psychological Study of the Effects of Social Media Use and Addiction on society at large; Dr. Porter et.al