How Selfies Actually Lower Self-Esteem

The Selfie (you know, a photo taken of oneself), has easily become the most popular type of picture that we see on the internet and in our text message and e-mail inboxes. With most people owning cell phones (including children who, in my opinion, are entirely too young to need one), and most of those people with phones owning one with a built-in camera, photos can be taken everywhere. Constantly.

Does anyone else remember when telephones actually made telephone calls?

I digress. The Selfie has taken on a life of its own. I mentioned in a previous post how Ellen DeGeneres managed to crash Twitter with the most epic group Selfie of all time. Social media outlets, dating sites, and cell phone photo galleries are flooded with self-taken photos and the trend is only going upward.

There are certainly many benefits of the Selfie: no longer do I need someone else to snap a photo of me in order to capture some occasion. In fact, many phones now come equipped with cameras facing the user just for this purpose! One can also send photos wearing two different outfits to a friend from a department store dressing room and ask for opinions without the friend needing to be present.

The sheer convenience is astounding. Remember the days when you repeatedly wished you had a camera with you to capture the moment? No? Well then you’re probably not yet of legal drinking age. Of course there was always the phenomenon that when you actually DID bring your camera, nothing exciting happened, or you only had 24 shots to take on a roll of film and had to be very selective! Not to mention you had to wait days or weeks to see what your photos looked like!

But now, we can capture everything, and review it immediately!

Is there a dark side to this convenience? Are Selfies actually causing more harm than good?

“Guilty,” on both counts. And here’s why:

THEY END UP IN THE WRONG HANDS

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. There have been entirely too many instances of famous individuals, from politicians to athletes and other celebrities, whose Selfies have ended up in the wrong hands or been seen by the wrong eyes. Anyone else wonder what kind of trouble former President Clinton may have found himself in if he served his term now instead of back when The Zach Morris phone was popular?

There are plenty of well-publicized examples of Selfies-gone-bad because they happen to famous people, but I imagine this happens to “regular folks” much more. The reputation that can be ruined or the opportunity lost because of a poorly made Selfie decision is not worth it.

SELF-ESTEEM NOW STEMS FROM THE SELFIE, NOT THE SELF

So as long as we remember to keep our clothes on, the Selfie isn’t really so bad, right? Well, you tell me.

“Back in the day,” we used to take pictures because we wanted to remember the occasions that those photos represented. We developed our photos and we put them in photo albums so that we could go back and look at them. Perhaps even show them to other select individuals. Primarily, though, a photo was taken to afford the picture-taker with a visual memory.

Not to mention that we dare not waste precious limited photos on ourselves. (Remember when you attempted the “best friends selfie” only to wait 3 weeks to develop the photo and realize you had really only captured your chin and your friend’s ear and one eyeball? #SelfieFail)

Fast forward to today, and our audience for our photos has changed completely. We no longer take pictures with our future selves in mind. Instead, we take a photo to immediately show others, whether individually or globally. We snap a photo and send it to a friend, a significant other, or post it online so that others can see us.

Because we want others to see us.

Social media in sum can be represented by a child jumping up and down on a trampoline shouting “Look at me! Look at me!” with a bullhorn. We want others to look at us, because that is now how we have learned to feel good about ourselves. The number of friends, followers, likes, favorites, re-pins, retweets and comments in general are directly related to how worthy we view ourselves to be.

We don’t know we are beautiful until we post a picture of ourselves and other people tell us we are.

Because this is not truly fulfilling, however, the effects are short-lived. So we must post again. And again. And get a new haircut and post again. We require constant reassurance and approval from others about how we look and the decisions that we make.

When it comes to one’s body image, this is a very dangerous trend to follow.

SELFIES ENCOURAGE PROVOCATIVE PHOTOS

Ask any teen or young adult which types of Selfies are the most popular and you will hear one answer repeatedly: the provocative ones.

That new parka you received from grandma is nice and all, but that bathing suit from Victoria’s Secret is going to get a whole lot more attention. You can unbutton the top button on your shirt for 1 or 2 comments, or unbutton the second button as well for 20 comments.

If our worth is tied into how much attention we get from Selfies, and the way to get more attention is to be more provocative, and being more provocative can lead to all sorts of trouble…

Well, you get the idea.

Our eternal “connectedness” with one another has created a society of individuals who heavily rely on others for reassurance and esteem. We are treading water in a rapidly accelerating river flowing directly downhill. Is there any hope of reversing the trend and diminishing the importance of other peoples’ opinions?

I mean, it is called SELF-esteem for a reason.

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3 Reasons We Have Become Obsessed with Technology

Have you ever checked your phone after 30 minutes, an hour, maybe two hours, only to have nothing new to see on it? No missed calls. No texts. No Facebook notifications or new Twitter followers. Nothing from Instagram. No Snapchats.

Have you then ever checked your level of service, or your internet connection, or gone so far as to turn your phone off and back on again? It must be some kind of mistake, right?

We live in a world now where our ego is based very much upon our technological and social media connections. How many “Likes” we get on a photo we post or “Retweets” or “Favorites” we get from our Twitter musings directly affects our sense of self-worth.

The degree that this affects each of us varies. Previously, I wrote about how we are becoming addicted to technology. But not everyone is addicted. Many of us are merely obsessed.

It took us decades to realistically go from the first telephones to the first televisions. Over roughly that same amount of time, we more recently went from no one owning a personal computer to people carrying multiple devices on them at all times. The access to information and the ability to connect with others is astounding. And dangerous.

How did this happen? How did we, as a collection of individuals, so quickly grasp onto this blossoming area known as technology? Below are three reasons why technology has grabbed onto us tight and hasn’t let go.

1)      FEELING CONNECTED TO OTHERS

Abraham Maslow, a famous psychologist, theorized that humans must feel a sense of belonging with others before they can increase their own self-esteem. Therefore, to belong or fit in with others is a requirement to feel good about oneself. Technology allows us to feel connected to others. To be a part of something.

As I write this, I have the Oscars on in the background. Just a moment ago, Ellen DeGeneres attempted to set the all-time “re-tweet” record on Twitter for a photo. They snapped a selfie that included the likes of Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts, among several others. In 13 seconds, that photo had been re-tweeted over 6200 times. In 13 seconds. (Update – as I edit this a day later, the photo has since been retweeted over 3 million times)

But then a funny thing happened. Twitter died. At least temporarily, anyway. The incredible surge and rush among all of the Oscars’ viewers to be a part of this moment overwhelmed the site. Later in the show, Ellen, live at the Oscars, announced to the world that they had successfully crashed Twitter. Immediately, thousands of people smiled to themselves as they know they contributed to this.

They helped. They were part of something.

Despite not actually having contact with anyone else.

2)      POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT

Technology offers us something that no one human being on this earth can: immediate, constant, and never-ending positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement, the idea that any action that is rewarded is likely to be repeated, is far and away the most effective form of behavior modification. A text. A tweet. A “Like.” They all make us feel good. They give us the warm fuzzies. Someone is thinking of me. Someone likes me.

See after my own site launched, I installed Google Analytics. It is a wonderfully informative and terribly addicting tool that shows me how many people are viewing my site at any given moment, where they are from, among plenty of other great information.

Seeing that people are viewing my site is incredibly reinforcing to me. It tells me that the content I am creating is of interest and of use to others. I check my Analytics often (probably too often) on the off chance that I can notice my readers on my site.

On a daily basis, though, is that why we post pictures? Announce moment-by-moment updates on our lives? On the off chance that we receive “approval” from others through comments and shares? Of course it is.

We all do it.

We announce the sad times because we want and need sympathy from others. We share the great things and the accomplishments because we want the congratulations from others. It’s not wrong. It’s human nature. And technology figured out a way for us to be able to receive that all the time.

3)      ESCAPE FROM REALITY

Technology offers us a way to feel (at least superficially) connected to others, and it provides us a source of constant and immediate positive reinforcement. But it also allows us to escape from others.

We sit in a classroom. In a boardroom in a meeting. On a date. In a movie. At a red light (but never while driving, right?). In line pretty much anywhere. At any moment, we have the ability to be anywhere we want to be. It is like having a personal genie in our pockets. But instead of 3 magical wishes we get as many as we can ask over the course of a 12-hour battery life. Then we plug it in and keep going.

No matter what we type into Google. No matter what website we go to. No matter what video we seek, or song we listen to. For the first time, we have complete control over our entertainment and our information. If we are the least bit dissatisfied with the physical world around us, we can escape immediately into a virtual life that we create.

The increase in satisfaction that we immediately feel when we do so? You guessed it: immensely positively reinforcing. It feels good and we’re going to do it again. And again. And again.

No longer do we have to agonizingly watch the clock tick until we reach that moment of freedom. No longer do we have to make idle conversation with those nearby. No longer do we have to exhibit patience, or feign interest, or display any semblance of an attention span. It’s not needed because in just a click or two or five, we are immediately where we would rather be.

And what could possibly be more reinforcing than that?

This is the second installment of the Psychological Effects of Technology series. Topics include how we have come to be so dependent on technology, the effects technology is having on us individually, the effects technology is having on our relationships with others, and what we can do about our reliance on technology.

Help these conversations happen. Please post your comments and questions to my Facebook Fan Page or share this article on your own Facebook profile. Follow me and tweet at me on Twitter @Bevacqua_PhD, or simply print these articles and share them with loved ones.

 

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