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Opinion 03 Feb 2020

Selfie culture: A Narcissist Obsession or a Crisis?

Sergey Matyunin

Why are we so selfie-obsessed? Stories of people falling off tall buildings in an attempt to capture the perfect selfie inundate our news feeds. And people absent-mindedly wandering off onto the road with their eyes fixed on their camera have become so commonplace. That we have come to think of them almost as an extension of the monuments they gawk at.

Let’s consider that Android phones alone take 93 million selfies a day. Does this compulsive clicking of our phone cameras? As we contort ourselves into ‘insta-worthy’ shapes and plastic smiles say something about a growing narcissism in our culture?

I would like to make it clear that, for the purpose of this article, I am defining ‘the selfie’ as an image taken through a mobile phone front-camera, of an individual or a group of people which is then shared on social media.

For Muslims,arrogance is a sin as it implies a feeling of independence from. And superiority to, Allah:“do not walk upon the earth arrogantly. Indeed, you will never tear the earth [apart], and you will never reach the mountains in height” (Qur’an 17:35). Selfies are designed for just that: whether you are taking them at the height of a skyscraper or in a shopping mall, their purpose is to capture and display ‘the perfect’ you.

It’s not really you. You are almost unrecognisable with the insta filters and ‘beautifier’ and downward camera angle and contorted features.

Selfies’ staged, fabricated quality puts out the subject on a platform. It awaiting public recognition in the form of hearts, likes or whatever digital seal of recognition used by that platform. Selfies’ inherent connection to social media. It is what distinguishes them from other photographic styles.

Ironically, the seemingly emancipated nature of being able to take your own picture. Without faffing around with a photographer or accosting someone on the street to take your picture (who might then run off with your camera before you have time to unfreeze the cheese off your face) has been lost to the dependency on social recognition fostered by social media.

So do selfies nurture a culture of narcissistic noughties intent simply on forcing upon others their insatiable egos? Not entirely. We have for a while suspected the addictive nature of selfie culture, but a recent study conducted York University and Flinders University shows a direct link between posting selfies on social media, increased anxiety and reduced self-esteem (2018).

The inappropriate, calculating nature of ‘recognition’ on social media brings us into an addictive and punishing spiral. Where, suddenly, the number of ‘thumbs up’ we get becomes the post important thing in the world.

So we turn from Allah, seeing ourselves not as His gift to us, created in His image and accountable only to Him, but instead immensely concerned with a superficial and temporal form of social recognition of ourselves through a fabricated image.

Arrogance and narcissism may be apt terms to characterise the noughties. But maybe it’s more of a symptom of a generation so insecure and driven by consumerist tendencies that they have become entrapped in a Sisyphean cycle of false searches. Let me leave you with this line on healing through loving yourself: “Love for your brothers, what you love for yourself.”