The newly emerged ‘selfie culture’ has created havoc and tragedy in the lives of many. A ‘Selfie’ allows the photographer to capture himself and his friends (in group selfies), thereby preventing the photographer being left out. Hence naturally, selfies have become popular worldwide but the downside has been the overuse and misuse of ‘selfies’.
Recently, two Sri Lankan girls in Oman fell to their deaths after allegedly trying to take selfies near a spring. Sources state that initially, one girl had slipped into the deep water. In an attempt to save herself, she had grabbed the hand of the other girl who had also fallen in. This recent tragedy was followed by another when last Monday, a 25-year-old Chinese woman was thrown off the foot-board of a train near Ambalangoda, while taking a selfie.
Social media is flooded with selfies and people tend to capture themselves in daring positions to attract attention. Experts we spoke to informed us that among several other reasons, it was low self-esteem and narcissistic personality traits that compelled people to pose for these life-threatening selfies.
Zainab Tuan Rashed and her friend Ruwane Delsara Samaraweera drowned in the spring in Salalah on Saturday evening, while apparently trying to click selfies.
A 35-year-old teacher told us how one of her students had sent nude selfies of herself to an older student in the school. “Adolescents use selfies to excite those of the opposite sex. This girl is very studious. But as she developed a liking for this boy and as she had the opportunity (as her parents were at work) she sent nudes to lure the boy. The shocked boy complained to us, after which we looked into it,” she said.
The people we spoke to also raised concern about selfies now being part of social gatherings. “Taking selfies and immediately uploading them has become more important than actual conversation among friends during a meet-up,” said Shyani Janarthanan, a teacher from Wellawatte. This was further substantiated by Renushi Abeyratne, a student from Mount Lavinia, who said that this practice reduced the amount of quality time spent with friends. “This sadly happens more often than we realise,” she said.
University students told us that taking selfies has become ‘routine’ and ‘normal’. “There are people who are scoptophobic like me. I’m very self-conscious about being photographed. Selfies are different, as you know how you look in the picture even before you take it. This boosts me up,” said Minuri Perera, a university student from Gampaha.
Many young people attested that selfies were a great way to store memories. At the same time, recent tragedies make us wonder if the risk is worth memorializing the moment. While experts advise precaution, they have also revealed to us the bitter reality of taking selfies.
A trap: Professor Daya Amarasekara- Department of Sociology, University of Peradeniya
Speaking to Dailymirror, Prof. Daya Amarasekara said consumers have been trapped by telephone manufacturing companies in their attempt at maximizing profits. “The selfie culture is a result of the efforts of trade companies to trap consumers through their products. For instance, in 2000, when the cellphone was introduced to Sri Lanka, we could only make calls. Afterwards, the cellphone was modified to include text messaging, and camera etc. This was with the aim of expanding the market and increasing profits. Ultimately, we now have come to an age where we are able to photograph ourselves through ‘selfies’. Statistics show that their profit percentage is not just a 100% but a whopping 300% or even 400% in some instances,” he added.
“This culture is a major challenge to society today. Selfies are posted on social media through which consumers fall into trouble. Certain illegal agencies extract such photographs for their own purposes. At the end, people commit suicide because they never expected such negative consequences,” he noted.
Expansion of the sexual subculture
Elaborating on the effect of selfies he remarked, “There is a sexual subculture which has spread through the internet to Sri Lanka. This includes prostitution, homosexuality and abnormal sexual behaviour. Now you could easily enter this subculture through selfies because people indulging in such behavior can share their nude pictures without any hesitation,” he said.
“Selfies have become a symbol of self-identification, self-importance and self-centrism. People don’t stop to think whether it’s apt or not to release their photographs to the internet and it has become almost a reflex action to post their photos. This is detrimental to the individual and to society as well,” he added.
“In California, a person fell off a 12-storey building after attempting to take a selfie with the sunrise in the background. Deaths caused by trying to take selfies have been reported in Sri Lanka as well. Research has pointed out that the mentality of such a selfie-addict was thrice worse than that of an alcohol-addict,” noted Prof. Amarasekara. He added that a selfie addict would not foresee an accident because his mind was too preoccupied with selfie-taking. “Our country is rapidly modernising. I think selfies were introduced too early to Sri Lanka,” he said.
Selfie taking could be a disorder one day: Dr. N. Kumaranayake- Clinical Psychiatrist of Base Hospital, Kiribathgoda
According to Dr. Kumaranayake, a study has shown that an average person spends 54 hours a year taking selfies. “In 2014 it was estimated that over 1 million selfies are taken per day. Another study shows that 47% believed that it was alright to take selfies during childbirth, 30% during sex, 20% of a funeral,” he added.
“We know that selfies improve self-esteem. But some psychologists point out that people with poor self-esteem and social contact are more inclined towards taking selfies. However, the American Psychiatry Association has revealed that taking selfies could become a disorder
one day,” he said.
Known as ‘selfitis’ the association has noted three stages in the disorder. “In early stages people take three photos a day but don’t upload them. In the acute stage, more than 3 photos are taken and uploaded on social media. In the chronic stage, more than 6 photos are taken and uploaded on social media as well,” he said. He added that though taking selfies could end up becoming an obsession, everyone who took selfies were not obsessed.
Dr. Kumaranayake said, “another survey shows that taking a lot of selfies is not an addiction but a symptom of body dysmorphic disorder. They worry about their appearance excessively and are not satisfied.”
Quoting from research, he said that a psychologist who conducted a study had met a teenager who attempted suicide because he was not satisfied with the selfie he had taken. “He was desperate to attract girls. He spent 10 hours a day taking more than 200 selfies, trying to get the ideal selfie. It caused him to drop out of school and lose weight,” he added.
Dr. Kumaranayake noted that a study in 2015 stated that 27 people died worldwide attempting to take selfies and that statistically, this was higher than the number of deaths caused by shark attacks. People the world over have died by drowning, electrocution and being run over by vehicles such as trains, while posing for selfies. There have been instances where people took selfies pointing guns at themselves and accidentally firing.
When asked as to why there was a tendency to take risky selfies, Dr. Kumaranayake said “A research published by the Ohio State University states that the pictures people post on social media reveal their personality. People who posted lots of selfies tended to score higher in terms of narcissism and psychopathy. Other research exploring the mentality behind such people show that dangerous selfies are worth the number of likes and comments it will generate. Likes are a quantifier to measure popularity. The research says that the usual insipid selfies did not generate likes and that extreme and dangerous ones were needed to get a high number of likes and comments,” he said. He added that another study showed that as people wanted large numbers of likes and comments within fifteen minutes, they posed for dangerous and life-threatening selfies.
“When people with low self-esteem post selfies on social media, they are criticized as well and some can’t handle it. This situation might end in depression and suicide as well,” he noted. Research shows that taking selfies have led to road accidents. “If you take a selfie while travelling, your short-term memory temporarily shuts down as you solely focus on posing for the selfie,” he said.
Referring to measures to reduce the obsession, he noted, “In cognitive therapy, parents talk to their selfie-obsessed adolescent children and explain to them its good and bad effects. One girl who was very obsessed with selfie mania came to me and told me that she couldn’t resist it. Such people are given treatment to reduce anxiety and the obsession, and are directed to professional counsellors,” he said.
“In some countries the selfie stick is banned in certain famous sites, museums and sports stadiums, so as to prevent injury. In some countries the selfie stick is defined as an offensive weapon,’ he remarked.
The two Sri Lankan girls in Oman who fell to their death taking selfies