It was at my first university party when I first noticed ‘the problem of the selfie’.
Everyone knew about Freshers’ Week. As a fresh-faced, naïve but apprehensive first year who had just turned 18 a few days prior to Freshers’ Week, I was raring to go. I had heard countless anecdotes about people having “the times of [their] lives” and indulging in endless shenanigans that ranged from the weird, such as ending up in Paris after a (tremendously) wild night out, to the (relatively) ‘normal’, namely the hook-ups and the projectile vomiting, an unfailing occurrence each night. Life was just about to start, as I was reassured, so bring on the alcohol, baby. I was ready for it all.
As evening loomed, chaos began to crackle. Slightly dazed from the vodka shot I’d been challenged to down with one of my newfound friends, I tottered to the sofa where several of my female friends were sitting, chatting among themselves and tapping away at their smartphones. Despite my inebriated state and the convoluted timeline of events that followed, I vaguely remember wondering why they were sitting in the corner, antisocial and far away from the rest of the party. Dialogue consisted of,
“So whatchu all doinnnggg?”
“We’re taking selfieees!”
At that very same moment, the bleary red-eyed pictures were posted and splashed all over social media, namely Facebook and Instagram. A full five minutes had not lapsed when a voice chirped, “So how many likes did you get for that?!”
It was then that I suddenly experienced a moment of sober clarity. My mind was swimming with questions, cynical questions, that widened my previously narrow outlook on life and on people. Was the point of going to the party not to meet new people and to forge friendships? Not to have fun? Or was it really (and rather pathetically) for photo-taking purposes? To look like they are actually having a life? Were these people really so narcissistic?
I did not know these people well enough to be able to blurt out any snarky comments and hence kept my mouth shut. I went with the flow and allowed myself to be led into the club, only for the same selfie process to repeat itself over and over again. The same motions were involved each time: a stiff, outstretched arm clutching tightly to a smartphone with its screen facing its subjects—usually an iPhone sheathed with a bumper or case that was in vogue—and several girls huddled around showing only the good side of their heavily made-up faces. After the pressing the camera button multiple times, it was then that we were finally allowed to escape—party time.
The next day, I was sitting at lunch with another friend who had not been at the party. Casually flicking through the photos that had been posted on Facebook the night before, she lamented her regret at having “missed out on all the fun” because she had been occupied elsewhere. I glanced over at the pictures, noting the smiling faces and the suspiciously non-glowing cheeks from the rush of alcohol consumed.
Had it really been that fun? I wondered. I remembered the carnival-like atmosphere with the bright neon lights and the unrestrained flailing of limbs grooving away into the night and the endless stream of colourful liquid happiness that came my way. But what really stood out most to me was the constant selfies that were being taken.
What I took issue with was the overindulgence in vanity displayed by the girls that was both exasperating and horrifying to witness. Have the standards of humankind really sunk so low? These girls were not your usual stereotypical vapid airheads—they have the world at their feet and are studying for degrees that will empower them even more so to make informed choices about their lives and be a source of change in the world. But the question was, why were they so concerned about their appearances? Why were they so superficial?
As time passed, I began to realise that the selfie craze existed due to a combination of many factors. People want to create the most positive public image of themselves; they want to be seen as having a great time whenever and wherever they are. The more ‘likes’, especially if they surpass the coveted one (maybe two or three) hundred likes, the better. It is a massive ego-boost that has the effect of creating a vicious epidemic of over-sharing and over-posting in the pursuit of popularity.
I suppose that is the way things are now. We are in an era where technology is king and instant information flow is of paramount importance. If only people could learn to let go of their virtual realities and enjoy real life before it is too late.