Selfie Psychosis

We are learning more and more about people who have a “selfie” obsession.  We know that people taking selfies are at greater risk of having serious, and even fatal, accidents because they are oblivious to their surroundings while they are taking pictures of themselves on streets or, say, at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  We’ve also seen evidence that people who take selfies are so self-absorbed that they don’t show the decency and sensitivity you typically would expect from a fellow human being.

Woman taking a selfieNow new research is indicating what seems like a pretty obvious conclusion:  people who take selfies are more likely to undergo plastic surgery.  The connection is even stronger if the selfies are taken with filters, or if the posters regularly take down selfie postings that they later conclude aren’t very flattering.  Cosmetic surgeons are reporting that members of the selfie crowd are coming to their offices with selfies where the features have been digitally altered and asked the doctor to change their appearance to match the altered image.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose, that people who take selfies are narcissistic and are interested in changing their appearance to try to reach their own definition of personal perfection.  After all, if you spend your time constantly looking at your own pouting face, you’re bound to notice a few imperfections to be cleaned up.  The selfie-obsessed also tend to compare their selfies with the countless other selfies that appear on social media feeds and find their looks wanting.

As one of the plastic surgeons quoted in the article linked above notes, that’s not healthy behavior.  It’s the kind of behavior that those of us who don’t take selfies, and indeed don’t particularly like to have their photos taken at all, just can’t understand.

But we’ll have to, because the selfie epidemic seems to be getting worse, not better.  Researchers estimate that 650 million selfies are posted every day on social media.  That’s a lot of potential plastic surgery.

Selfie Soullessness

In northern Italy, a tragedy happened at a train station.  A Canadian woman was struck and badly hurt by a train. Rescuers and station personnel went to help her, and ultimately the injured woman was taken to a hospital, where her leg was amputated.

selfie1-870x418But while the helpless, injured woman lay prostrate on the track bed and rescue workers assisted her, a guy in white shorts and a white shirt positioned himself on the adjacent platform so that the woman and the workers appeared in the background behind him, flashed a hand gesture and no doubt a facial expression . . . and then used his cell phone to take a “selfie” of himself and the tragic scene.  The man’s act of cold-hearted callousness was captured by a news photographer in the photograph published above.  Police noticed the man in white shorts, too, and briefly detained him.  Although he was found to have committed no crime, they required him to delete the selfie — so we’ll never see the photo that he thought was so important to take.

The above photograph of the heartless selfie-taker has caused shock and outrage in Italy.  The photographer said the scene caused him to think that “we have completely lost a sense of ethics.”  A commentary in a popular newspaper spoke of a “cancer that corrodes the internet” and said that the man in white shorts had lost his soul and his personality; a popular radio said the scene showed that the human race is “galloping towards extinction.”

But should anyone really be surprised by the man in white shorts who thought a scene of personal tragedy would be an interesting and fitting backdrop for yet another photo of his face?  We’ve seen stories of people risking life and limb — and sometimes losing the bet — to take selfies, and we all know people whose first thought, wherever they may be, apparently is to take a selfie and publish it to their friends.  The selfie zealots have allowed their narcissism to overwhelm their common sense, and the guy in white shorts has allowed his basic sense of decency to be overwhelmed, too.

For the selfistas, the real world is just an abstraction, and nothing more than background for their self-absorbed grins and gestures.  For the sake of the guy in white shorts, let’s hope that if he ever is injured or needs help, there are people nearby whose first reaction will be to help him — rather than step back and take a selfie.

Goat Yoga

When I first heard there was a “goat yoga” fad, I thought it probably involved yoga fiends doing poses that were . . . goat-like.  Just like, for example, yoga features the classic “downward facing dog” pose, or the camel pose, or the cat pose.

Perhaps goat yoga involves poses that involve standing on all fours, or shaking your head and twitching your ears, or eating a tin can, or making the goatish maaaaa sound?

goat-yoga-2But all of that is wrong.  “Goat yoga” evidently just involves doing yoga poses while goats are in the vicinity and — this is apparently especially important — having your picture taken in a yoga pose with the goat teetering on your back, or otherwise visible somewhere, so you can post the picture on your favorite social media outlet.  This story about goat yoga classes in Dallas notes that, for $36 bucks a pop, participants can get in an hour of yoga while more than a dozen goats from a nearby farm wander around, looking photogenic and selfie-friendly so those crucial snapshots can be taken.  Having been around goats at the petting zoo long ago, I’m guessing goats aren’t part of the mix because they emit a zen-inducing fragrance that is especially conducive to ekagra.  In fact, you’d think that having animals roaming around and potentially nibbling at your clothes while you’re working on getting that pose right might interfere with achieving the state of mind that yoga is supposed to help participants attain.

Why do yoga fans like doing their poses with goats, as opposed to sheep or some other moderately sized farm animal?  For that matter, why an animal at all, as opposed to, say, “cabbage head” yoga, or “abandoned sofa” yoga?  Apparently it’s just because people think goats are cute and look good in the inevitable social media selfies.  And they’re willing to part with 36 bucks for the privilege.

This says something about modern society, but I’m not sure what.

 

The Growing Selfie Death Toll

Here’s an interesting statistic:  more people died last year in “selfie”-related incidents than died from shark attacks.

That’s according to a recent scholarly paper that looked at the phenomenon of “selfie” deaths — defined as deaths that could have been avoided if the person involved had not been taking a “selfie.” According to the paper, India leads the world in reported selfie deaths and, in fact, has had more reported selfie deaths since 2014 than the rest of the world combined.  The United States, according to the paper, comes in third.  Sadly, most of the selfie deaths occurred to people who were under the age of 24, and the number of selfie deaths seems to be on the rise.

o-bull-run-selfie-facebookThe primary cause of “selfie” deaths appears to be the “adventurous” selfie.  That’s the selfie the person takes against some dramatic backdrop, like a selfie taken at the edge of a cliff or in front of an oncoming train.  (No kidding!  People really do this stuff!)  The paper breaks selfie deaths down into categories like “height related,” “water related,” “train related,” and “weapons related” — where the death is caused by the accidental firing of a weapon that was to be prominently featured in the selfie.  There are even categories for “animal related” and “electricity related” selfie deaths, which sound especially grisly.

The paper attempts to quantify what makes particular “adventurous” selfies especially dangerous, in the hopes of making the world a safer place by making people more aware.

It’s a laudable goal — but what makes the authors think that anyone stupid enough to go shuffling backward toward the edge of a cliff, or to move nearer to that tiger, to try to frame the perfect selfie shot is going to read a scholarly paper?  Selfie deaths seem to be Darwinism in action.

I Suck At “Selfies”

IMG_1527When Kish and I were up at Glacier National Park, we took a boat ride with some young people who spent the entire time ignoring the fabulous scenery we were cruising past, and taking “selfies” of themselves instead.

I groaned at their lack of appreciation for the abundant natural beauty surrounding us, but they did look like they were having a lot of fun.  Intrigued, I decided to try to take my first selfie — and I realized the framing, distance, etc. that are crucial parts of the selfie experience are not exactly easy to master.  My effort at a selfie, above, was a dismal failure . . . although it does communicate a certain pathetic ineptitude with modern technology that is easily mastered by an eight-year-old.

Then I realized that I not only suck at selfies, I have no desire to look at a selfie with me in the picture.  If I want to gaze at that grizzled mug, a mirror will do just fine.

Posing With A Hijacker

Let’s suppose you were still on a plane that had been hijacked by a guy wearing what appeared to be an explosive suicide belt and been diverted to a different airport, where authorities were negotiating with the hijacker and passengers on the plane were gradually being released.

Would you (a) sit quietly in your seat, hoping that authorities resolved the situation, (b) send your loved ones a message so they knew you were OK, and hoping for the best, or (c) get your picture taken with the hijacker and then text it to your roommate, telling him that you don’t “fuck about” and to turn on the news?

untitled-article-1459288787Ben Innes, a 26-year-old guy from Leeds, England, chose (c).  His picture with Seif Eldin Mustafa, who hijacked an EgyptAir flight and diverted it to Cyprus, shows Innes sporting one of the worst fake smiles in the history of the world as he stands next to a sad-faced old guy wearing a belt of supposed explosives (which turned out to be fake).  Innes later explained that he wanted to let the hijacker know that he was no threat and to help the hijacker realize that everyone still on the plane was a human being.  Perhaps . . . but it sounds like an after-the-fact rationalization to me.  His text to his roommate right after the photo was taken sure makes it seems that Innes was more interested in getting his face and name on the news — and his ploy worked.

So Innes has had his five minutes of fame, and everybody got off the plane safely.  But let’s suppose the suicide belt wasn’t a fake, and Innes’ decision to approach the hijacker for a picture made the hijacker feel threatened and decide to change course from the “negotiate, then release” approach he had been taking.  What Innes did was an unbelievably reckless and stupid stunt that could easily have endangered his fellow passengers when the authorities had the situation under control.

Apparently some people are so self-absorbed and so hungry for attention these days, from their own circle of friends and from others, that they will intervene in a hijacking to take their own picture. It’s mind-boggling.  The modern world just grows weirder by the day.

Sad Selfie Spot

  
Here’s another modern cultural development that falls squarely into  the “ugh” category:  the Savannah airport has a designated “selfie spot” where you can take a “selfie” in front of an autumnal display of hay bales, mums, and pumpkins.

It’s bad enough that we have to put up with people taking “selfies” at every opportunity.  Now we’re encouraging them to do so on airport concourses?

Selfies With Hillary

Recently I saw some footage of Hillary Clinton campaigning, and it seemed like she was spending most of her time with a plastic smile on her face, stopping for “selfies” with people in the crowd.  The candidate would pose with an admirer who wanted a picture, walk a few paces, pose as another person manipulated their handheld to get their face and Clinton’s face in the shot, and that silly process continued, again and again and again.

If I were Hillary Clinton, this kind of  stop-and-go, photo-centric approach to campaigning would drive me nuts.  I also wonder what the Secret Service has to say about the physical security of selfies.  It’s one thing to have candidates walk the rope line, doing the grip and nod as they move steadily along before or after a speech, but the stop every few feet, cheek-to-cheek nature of constant selfies would seem to pose greater security risks.

I think the apparent obsession some people seem to have about taking “selfies” whereever they are, whatever they are doing, is curious — and, at times, off-putting.  In my view, the cell phone camera/selfie stick world has wrecked the experience at some art museums like the Louvre.  (I’m not alone in this; some art museums have banned selfie sticks because of their irritating, disruptive, view-obstructing tendencies.)

But I also guess I don’t understand why people want to take, and have, so many pictures of themselves. Is it simple Narcissism?  Is it a desire to have photographic proof that you were where you claimed to be?  Is it a desire to perfect your very best selfie pose?

The last time I was at the Louvre I watched a young man taking individual selfies of himself standing in front of every one of the dozens of paintings along one wall in a gallery.  What in the world was he going to do with them?  Was every one of those selfies posted to the guy’s Facebook page so that his friends could see dozens of nearly identical pictures of his smiling mug in front of a painting on their news feeds?  Was he going to have a mind-numbing slide show upon his return home?

Hillary Clinton, and no doubt other candidates who have to do the selfie stops, probably will end up being among the most selfie-photographed people in the history of the human race.  It would be interesting to get her unvarnished views about how she feels about it.

“Selfie”-Absorbed

The latest thing to apparently go “viral” is a series of photos of President Obama, his wife Michelle, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Danish leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela yesterday.

The President, Cameron, and Thorning-Schmidt joked and took a picture of themselves with a cell phone — called a “selfie” — while Michelle Obama sat to the side.  Countless bits of space on the internet have now been filled with debate about whether taking a “selfie” and sharing a joke during a memorial service is appropriate behavior, interpreting Michelle Obama’s demeanor as depicted in the photos, and trying to read whether she is irked that her husband is chatting and chuckling with the Danish leader.

This incident, in a nutshell, is one of the things about the internet that I find maddening.  So many things go “viral” that viral status seems to be the norm these days, and people fixate on trivial things at the expense of understanding the significant matters.  It’s a shame that anyone running a Google search on the Mandela memorial service will have to wade through commentary about the silly “selfie” incident rather than stories emphasizing the extraordinary fact that leaders from across the world — including the current American president and three former Presidents — traveled to South Africa to pay tribute to a former prisoner who is now regarded as a great historical figure.

So I’m not going to criticize President Obama for posing for a “selfie” and I’m not going to speculate about whether and how his wife Michelle reacted to his behavior.  That’s their business, not mine.  The significant thing is that he and former Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Carter saw fit to attend and honor the memory and life of Nelson Mandela, and I’m glad they did.