Andre Cantelmo Photography | The Selfie, Social Media, and our Changing Society

The Selfie, Social Media, and our Changing Society

April 03, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The selfie has turned into a world wide activity. What are the reasons so many people participate in this activity? What does the popularity of this activity say about our society? What does it say about our self image? A good place to start this discussion is at the end. Social media offers wide distribution instantaneously. If the end destination did not exist, then the selfie would be less popular. Almost everyone has the ability to post a photograph to an online site as it happens. This can be a great communication tool to stay in touch with family and friends. It also has psychological implications.


The first reason people post selfies is that it offers proof of our basic goodness and humanity. Being photographed with cute animals, children, and being involved in outdoor activities shapes how others see us. This poses the question, why should we have to prove our humanity? That is a large subject to cover and I'll touch on it a bit below. Second, photos involving risky behavior can be proof of bravery. Third, photos of selflessness are a personality enhancement.


Life was slow and measured in our recent past. People sat and read books, (the paper analog kind), and many had personal stationary and wrote letters to friends and family. Information traveled much slower than it does today. Nowadays we watch unfolding news as it is happening, on a world wide stage. Products are displayed on screen in our homes, informing us on ways to improve ourselves. We have a multitude of standards to measure ourselves to see how we stack up. It is common place today to photograph yourself in an activity, post the photo to social media, and all before you've ended the day. This has the effect of making celebrities of us in our family and friend circles. It is a counter punch to the impersonal assaults we subject ourselves to daily. Our generation was raised to think of ourselves as special and unique. We are reminded all the time that we are less than that. Many take photos of themselves participating in risky behavior. We've seen the images of extreme skiing, base jumping, and climbing cliffs with minimal gear. We have the pictures to prove our bravery. People will photograph themselves doing almost everything, and post it somewhere these days. It's as if we are offering proof we exist. People adopted the selfie to enhance their style, just like their clothing choice, or tattoos and hairstyle separate them from the pack, so does the selfie to some extent.


Selfies can be positive as well as negative. The need to separate oneself from the masses and stand out is made easy by way of the selfie. It is an easy personality enhancement. How we see ourselves is directly related to how we perform in the society we are part of. It is not always narcissistic, rather its how we define ourselves. It is now easier than ever to control how others see us. It is a common practice to use the cell phone camera as we once used a hand held mirror. It is because of social media that we now are able to interact with hundreds of people all at the same time. Not that long ago we interacted with other people either in person or via land line telephone, a much smaller number of interactions. These days one photo post equals many interactions and that photo can be altered with software filters. We present our best self, a self portrait that we control and approve of.


There are two sides to this issue, as with most issues, and balance is the sweet spot we should land on. Anything we obsess about becomes a problem. It narrows our view of what lies in front of us. We develop tunnel vision, that's why being obsessed is generally not a good thing. It's now easier to present a public image of ourselves that differs from an in person experience. That difference might open some doors for you, and on the other hand present you with a situation you have to live up to. Never before has it been easier for friends and family to keep their lives closely woven together. We watch the flow of life of our loved ones as never before. At a time when economics sometimes create great distances between us and our friends and family, we now get to watch their day progress. We get to see our grandchildren in their favorite pajamas from hundreds of miles away. It is not the same as being there though. The expressions on their faces are stuck in a moment in time. Reading the emotions of our friends and family is a much more close up and personal experience.


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