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Has the selfie made us less self-conscious?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-05-2017 Sapna Agarwal

Or more?

I am part of the Lokhandwala Running Club (LRC) in Mumbai. One ritual the group’s members follow is to take a selfie at the end of a run and post it on social media groups. These ‘real time’ smiling digital affirmations of triumph are of runners who have sweated it out while most others are struggling out of slumber or a hangover.

Self-portraits are the original selfies and they have been around since photography became affordable in the mid-19th century.

Remember the Polaroid? Then there was the Japanese purikura, perhaps the predecessor of Instagram and Snapchat. A purikura was a machine that took your picture, printed it in the form of stickers, and offered options such as overlaying the photograph with a message or favourite character. And this was in the 1990s.

With smartphones, the ability to make and take pictures has exploded. There are over 310 million posts tagged #me on Instagram. Pictures are no longer taken only on special occasions. Nor do they require any conscious thought or immense effort.

My 18 year-old niece is on Snapchat and clicks pictures making random faces. It’s like words, but instantaneous visual communication.

Meanwhile, some people have taken the selfie obsession to a different level—putting themselves and others at risk. The new form of expression has created an entire ecosystem around it with apps, gizmos and gadgets that enhance the selfie. Some of these gadgets like the selfie stick—handheld extension poles—are now banned in some places.

But how real are these images?

Amitava Sengupta, research scholar on consumer behaviour at the University of Calcutta, thinks they aren’t very real. According to Sengupta, the personal self (as he calls it) is not shared on social media. It is the other self (again, his term) which is on display.

The fact that selfies can be manipulated has raised concerns among consumer behaviour experts and psychoanalysts of people wanting to control their self-presentation to create a socially desirable self-image and get a positive feedback. The constant clicking of the self is also about narcissism. How else do you explain the over one million #bathroomselfie posts on Instagram?

But maybe we are making too much of something that is actually very trivial.

The selfie is not a self-portrait. It’s not a work of art. Also most are not taken for posterity. Apps such as Snapchat automatically delete pictures after a certain time. And people who post a lot on social media are known to systematically delete their archive and start over.

This may not at all be about increased narcissism or self-consciousness. If anything, it may be just the opposite. The selfie has made us a lot less self-conscious.

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