A new selfie museum has opened its doors in LA. Suzanne Harrington grabs her phone and takes a look.
In London recently, visiting the grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery and the gloriously cheesy impromptu memorial garden set up by fans of late local resident George Michael, I realise with a jolt that I have left my phone elsewhere.
Oh no! How am I going to take selfies so that everyone knows I have been visiting the illustrious dead of North London?
I buy a postcard of Marx’s grave, but it’s just not the same.
Have I contracted that most modern of social diseases, selfitis?
Technically no, because I hadn’t planned on actually being in the photos, I just wanted to post Karl and George on social media – but still, the urge to photo document every step of a Sunday afternoon stroll can’t be healthy, can it? Do I have pre-selfitis?
Am I just one step from that most heinous of all digital crimes — holding your phone up at gigs?
The alleged phenomenon of selfitis began as a hoax in 2014, thanks to a widely circulated fake news story about how the American Psychiatric Association had classified obsessive selfie-taking as a mental disorder.
Then, to the horror of London’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, who dismissed the concept entirely (“Selfitis does not exist and should not exist”), the phone-based behavioural tic still managed to become the subject of a genuine academic paper, its findings published in the International Journal of Mental Health & Addiction. Really.
Dr Mark Griffiths, professor of behavioural addiction at the psychology department of Nottingham Trent University, working with a business college in India, came up with various selfitis categorisations.
With the help of 400 participants – Millennial / Gen Z digital natives with an average age of 20 – those suffering from this most futurist form of narcissism could be divided into three categories: borderline (where you take three or more selfies a day, but don’t post them on social media); acute (where you take three or more selfies a day and do post them on social media); and chronic (where you take six or more selfies a day and post them all on social media).
The research has also created the world’s first selfitis behaviour scale, which is not dissimilar to the one used in 12 step recovery to figure out of you’re an alcoholic — “The higher you score, the greater the likelihood is that you suffer from selfitis.”
So just as hiding gin under your bed is never a good sign, neither is nodding vigorously to statements about how selfies make you feel better about yourself / more connected to your peers / more accepted / more popular.
We take so many selfies, according to the study, for reasons of environmental enhancement, social competition, attention seeking, mood modification, self-confidence, and social conformity.
Yet while it’s tempting to shriek in derision at such mind-boggling shallowness (remember Kate Tempest’s lyric from Let Them Eat Chaos — “Selfies and selfies and selfies and here’s ME outside the palace of ME”), people can actually die in the act.
India, with the most Facebook users globally, has the highest death rate from people trying to take selfies in extreme locations.
The global selfie death toll – rising from 15 in 2014 to 73 in 2016 – now exceeds all deaths by shark attack. We are literally being killed by our own narcissism, just like the mythical Narcissus staring himself to death in the reflection not of a smart phone, but a pond.
The Museum of Selfies, a pop-up in Los Angeles, helpfully includes a section on narcissism, as well as exploring the history and culture of the selfie, defined as taking an image of oneself by oneself, which the museum founders say has been a human endeavour going back 40,000 years.
Or self-portraits, as they used to be known, laborious, time-consuming and restricted to those with artistic ability.
Nowadays, we are all artists, uploading around one million instant self portraits a day onto social media, hashtag look at me.
“Whether you think they are the most amazing things ever, or the low point of human culture, selfies have a firmly cemented place in our modern society,” reads the Museum’s website.
“But [selfies] also have roots going back to the most ancient and primal aspects of our species.
“That deserves a museum, no?”
Well, maybe a temporary one, so long as it’s firmly tongue in cheek.
LA-based game designers Tair Mamedov and Tommy Honton thought it might be fun to create such a place, complete with new artists reimagining classic works from Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Van Gogh and Klimt – resulting in, amongst others, the Mona Lisa and the statue of David staring hypnotised into their phones.
There’s interactive areas too, where you can take your own selfies — the ubiquitous food selfie, the rooftop selfie, and the bathroom selfie.
(No, I don’t know what that involves, nor am I keen to find out).
Yet there is a world of difference between the joyful snapping of a group selfie – like that famous Oscars one posted by Ellen DeGeneres – and the solitary pouting of a bedroom unknown desperate to be known as someone, anyone, on social media.
If only Bradley's arm was longer. Best photo ever. #oscars pic.twitter.com/C9U5NOtGap— Ellen DeGeneres (@EllenDeGeneres) March 3, 2014
Like any other behaviour, digital or otherwise, it’s not what you do.
It’s how addictively you do it.
All together now – CHEESE!!
STEP AWAY FROM THE PHONE – Have You Got Selfitis?
The world’s first behavioural guide to selfie-taking (5 strongly agree to 1 strongly disagree)
1. Taking selfies gives me a good feeling to better enjoy my environment
2. Sharing my selfies creates healthy competition with friends and colleagues
3. I gain enormous attention by sharing my selfies on social media
4. I am able to reduce my stress level by taking selfies
5. I feel confident when I take a selfie
6. I gain more acceptance among my peer group when I take selfies and share them on social media
7. I am able to express myself more in my environment through selfies
8. Taking different selfie poses helps increase my social status
9. I feel more popular when I post my selfies on social media
10. Taking more selfies improves my mood
11. I become more positive about myself when I take selfies
12. I become a strong member of my peer group through selfie postings
13. Taking selfies provides better memories about an event/experience
14. I post frequent selfies to get more ‘likes’ and comments on social media
15. By posting selfies, I expect friends to appraise me
16. Taking selfies instantly modifies my mood
17. I take more selfies and look at them privately to increase my confidence
18. When I don’t take selfies, I feel detached from my peer group
19. I take selfies as trophies for future memories
20. I use photo editing tools to enhance my selfie to look better than others