Selfies: A Sign of Trouble, or a Force for Good?

These days, most social media users need only login to find an example of a selfie: a self-portrait. Instead of taking pictures of what we see, we turn around and photograph ourselves in that moment. This is changing the way we interact with experiences, and even people.

For the most part, we have accepted selfies as part of modern life. Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has embraced the selfie as something her supporters crave from her. In an interview with an Iowa newspaper, Clinton said that she is able to get some quality time in with people who have something to say and request a selfie. She admitted that it does lower the quality of interactions with large groups compared to before the ubiquity of selfies, but later qualified that by saying it was little different than the people who before lined up simply to be photographed with her: “I think the proportion is not that much different.” For some, the focus is on meeting someone famous and capturing the moment, not interacting with the political process.

Selfies Can Do Good

Even the President of the United States posts selfies, but he does more than simply record his memories.

Barack Obama, wearing sunglasses, takes a selfie in front of a glacier in Alaska. Group of people in the background.

President Obama at Alaska’s most visited glacier. Source:

President Barack Obama took this opportunity while visiting Alaska to discuss climate change in a video selfie, or “velfie,”  with a large glacier. He is certainly not the first person to make use of selfies to raise awareness.

Photo of a man with a homemade clock showing a digital readout saying "2015-09-17 20:47 #IStandWithAhmed"

Ahmed is a young American of Middle-Eastern descent whose home-invented clock got him arrested and searched because his teachers assumed he had a bomb. Source:

Some social media campaigns use selfies paired with hashtags like #IStandWithAhmed to show support for the oppressed or suffering. Other social change campaigns can be helped by the selfie, and video selfies have helped too. Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? People loved posting their videos, and it was an immense success, raising over $100 million for ALS research. Peter Hutchison wrote for explaining that video selfies allow for more expression of emotion and action than pictures alone can manage, sometimes evoking a stronger reaction from viewers.

Selfies Can Be Dangerous

However, not everyone is so enchanted with this new form of self-portraiture. From actor Cate Blanchett to Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson, many people decry selfies as narcissistic and dangerous to Americans. There is some basis for their concerns.

This man thinks the large black bear behind him is a good photo opportunity. Source:

This man thinks the large black bear behind him is a good photo opportunity. Source:

Selfie deaths have increased drastically as smartphone usage has skyrocketed around the globe. In response, many tourist attractions banned the use of selfie sticks, citing them as contributing to injuries and deaths of selfie-taking tourists.

Russia has even published a pamphlet on when it is not safe to take a selfie:

This warning was published by the Russian government to show where it is not safe to self-portrait,

People have died from careless selfie-taking in these situations. Source:

Are selfies narcissistic?

Some research has shown that certain kinds of selfies posted on social media can correlate with narcissism and low self-esteem. Essentially, if your selfie is focused on you–and only you–it’s a bad sign. Selfies that demand attention to appearance with no other objective (like recording a memory or promoting a cause) can indicate a narcissist, most often when the selfies are posted as profile pictures. However, the correlations found between selfies and narcissists were described as small, and because this is the only study on psychological correlations with selfies, their significance needs further study.

Clearly, the selfie issue is a complicated one. On the one hand, some kinds of selfies do seem to indicate some self-esteem issues in our society. However, correlation is not causation: put more plainly, just because selfies might coincide with narcissism does not mean the selfies caused it. The research on the subject seems to suggest that it all depends on a person’s pre-existing motivation.

Are selfies annoying, or empowering?

Kim Kardashian is widely considered narcissistic for the volume of selfies she takes and posts. Source:

Kim Kardashian is considered narcissistic by many for the volume of selfies she takes and posts. Source:

It is easy to scoff at people who post endless selfies. It can be infuriating to see dozens of different poses in just one day, and we may well roll our eyes when we see yet another hashtag selfie campaign set to make us aware of yet another problem in the world. After all, too much of a good thing can be annoying, and selfies focused only on one’s own self-image are not something that include the people they are shared with.

However, I like to try to think of what the selfie taker is trying to tell me with their barrage of selfies. I can learn their mood, their goals, even their sense of humor from the pictures they post. Despite frequent misuse and links to mental illness, selfies clearly provide a new form of expression.

This is a vacation photo of Kate Middleton and her family. They had someone, perhaps another family member not pictured, take their photograph to document their being in this time and place. Source:

This is a vacation photo of Kate Middleton and her family. They had someone, perhaps another family member not pictured, take their photograph to document their being in this time and place. Source:

 For decades, when we had new experiences or traveled to new places, we would take and share photographs of landmarks and landscapes, or ask others to take our pictures to show where we were. They would decide how they felt the picture would best be taken.

Now, we have taken that decision back, giving us control over the recording of our cherished moments. We turn our backs on the experiences we see, putting ourselves in the forefront of the picture with the experience in the back. This is representative of a shift in how we interact with our lives: we are the most important part of our experiences, and we want to remember it that way. Furthermore, selfies have empowered a generation to share themselves in a way that connects them with the world, whether through the places they have visited or the causes they support. In sharing ourselves in that way, we encourage others to comment and reciprocate.

Overall it appears that the selfie is here to stay, and it has already forever changed our culture. No longer do we need photographers, camera operators, or even strangers at tourist locations to record our lives and our thoughts. For better or worse, the selfie is here to stay.


7 thoughts on “Selfies: A Sign of Trouble, or a Force for Good?

  1. And now we have a selfie double feature on the blog with @riccialexis83 posting on selfie culture, too! @admyers7 I loved seeing and thinking about the difference between vacation/tourist photos in the pre- and post-selfie eras. Interesting, too, that many of the smartphones we use to take these selfies also feature filters to give our self portraits that nostalgic feel. But nostalgia is more than sepia and grayscale, no? Are we also nostalgic for the awkward interactions we had with the strangers who use to take our family photos?

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  2. I know I’m going to sound like a grouchy old man, but I definitely gravitate towards the view that selfies (and, from a lot of what I keep seeing online, most social media outlets) have strongly narcissistic qualities in their creation and purpose. As much as I like entertainment media and having access to the internet, even I don’t get what’s so interesting about seeing photos of people I’ll probably never meet (and, increasingly, probably won’t ever care about).

    However, I appreciate your use of the counter-argument that “correlation is not causation” in regards to selfies; in particular, I concede that it’s not fair to simply blame selfies for instigating narcissistic behavior (i.e., intention/motivation should be considered first). While I don’t see the appeal of taking and/or viewing selfies, I’ll admit to the greater likelihood that narcissistic intentions are preexisting to the practice, with the latter simply serving as a convenient outlet.

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  3. This was an amazing read. I had not realized the advantages and disadvantages to selfies taking. More over, it made me stop and think whether it creates a discourages creative integration in social networks. How do you feel about selfies in general?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Invasion of the selfies!!! Like I commented in the post prior, “The History of the Selfie,” I think it’s crazy that the selfie has become so popular and as you mentioned, DANDEROUS! Not only can you place yourself in physical danger, but you can also turn yourself into a narcissist. Someone that can’t get tired of looking good for themselves. It reminds me of the greek myth of Echo. Fell in love with his reflection in the water until he died of starvation for not wanting to leave his own reflection.

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  5. I have start this comment by saying that I am a huge fan of the selfie but I also remember what my Mom told me one summer when I came home from camp and she developed an entire roll of pictures of kids she didn’t know. Of course I knew who they were at the time but she told me that in 20 years when I looked back on those pics I would be sad that I didn’t have any of myself, which is true! I actually found a box full of old pics the other day and had no idea who any of those random kids were and like my Mom said, I wish I had more pics of myself at the time.

    So I think selfies are a good thing when you are capturing memories or just for fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. For the most part, I view the motivation for selfies as being narcissism. Even those who take dangerous selfies may be driven by a desire to be noticed or to gain a daring reputation. If so, that’s ego, like I mentioned in my response to “The History of the Selfie,” the painter Khalo once said she painted dozens of self-portraits because “I know the subject”. Perhaps this is where much of the popularity of the selfie begins?

    Not all selfies are self-seeking, though. As my daughter entered high school at a boarding academy and recently left for college, I occasionally text her and ask for a selfie just so I can see her face. Of course, her motivation for taking these selfies is anything but narcissistic. Obama and the many others who use the power of selfies for good, like you mentioned in your post, are personally the kind of selfies I would rather be spammed with when I get onto the internet.


  7. I’m fresh off the other selfie article, written by Ricci, and I’m really enjoying the contrast in perspectives. I think you’ve made an interesting critique of selife culture!

    When I was in junior high school, a few friends and I invented a game called “Paparazzi,” where we’d roam around with those cardboard disposable cameras that used to be everywhere, and surprise people by taking their picture. Most of the time, we’d try to surprise each other. But sometimes, when we were feeling brave, we’d venture out in public for snapshots of unsuspecting strangers.

    Thinking back on our game, it seems like the anti-selfie! These were pictures that we collected and proudly displayed because they were spontaneous unposed documents of where we’d been and who we were there with. And I’m glad it’s not something that ever caught on with others!

    Liked by 1 person

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