‘Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us’ – Will Storr

Neo-liberalism, self-esteem and ego in the digital age: a disturbing mix.

The book, 'Selfie'; the author of the book, Will Storr (not a selfie)
The book, ‘Selfie’; the author of the book, Will Storr (not a selfie)

Having never successfully taken a selfie, it’s smugly easy for me to sit on the sidelines and observe the twits who do and consider myself significantly more enlightened than they.

It’s a measure of where this plague has brought us, in that people are taking selfies at Auschwitz and actually have to be told not to. Because, you presumably know, it’s somewhat inappropriate to make a Nazi extermination camp all about you getting likes on social media. Experience is no longer good enough to on its own; what possible value could it have if it’s not documented shared, liked, and commented on? I have friends and colleagues who find themselves in exotic, far-flung destinations; countries and locales with rich, vivid histories and cultures, but the first words that come out of their mouths upon returning are complaints about the lacking Wi-Fi.

Surely, your breakfast choices aren’t *that* spectacular that they need to be shared with the world? If you simply enjoyed your eggs and not Instagrammed them, did you actually have a nice meal? Do you need ‘likes’ to know that you liked something to begin with? Or that you, indeed, are already liked?

In his book on the selfie/self-worth/reality TV phenomenon, Will Storr interviews a young woman who has a poultice of selfies stored on a variety of hardware, and spends (wastes) her time each night, feverishly editing and filtering her ego portraits for a wealth of supposedly adoring fans. She also explains to Storr how she gets thrills out of discarding men who love her, and finds close to zero satisfaction in anything short of cutting herself. More’s the pity – this girl is not alone in this behaviour.

It is the author’s supposition that self-obsession is the evil offspring begat of a lacking dissatisfaction with self and/or an out-and-out dislike – these things coming on the heels of media and society-fuelled social idealism which has presented the ‘perfect self’ since Ancient Greece, and continues to do so through advertising, media and social networking. Unable to maintain the illusion as dictated, many are pushed to suicide.

Storr’s thematic thread is vast, and spans from Aristotle all the way through the vile pseudo fascism of Ayn Rand, to the ‘self-esteem’ movement of the 80s and 90s, to Trump’s rise to power on the heels of placing the needs of the individual above and beyond that of the collective… all of which is fuelled with startling efficiency by smart phone technology and social media platforms. It’s really quite vile to see the individualist philosophy played out: in short, if you haven’t succeeded it’s because you have neither wanted it nor tried hard enough (your circumstances or obstacles be damned). That the measure of success is physical, and financial, and that worth is all but measured in celebrity.

Selfie works brilliantly as a treatise on a phenomenon, a disturbing trend and a cultural history. Storr finds significant relevance to his own experience – loathsome as he reflects upon himself, his unlikeable self in the past and the belly which protrudes above his belt – having been conditioned to believe than rather it being one of many variations on the human experience, he is at fault for having over-indulged, not having had the discipline to shed the kilos or create a six pack (as are displayed in the billions of gym selfies currently clogging the Cloud). The book emerges at a pivotal time, when we can look at this culture of self-obsession as being a telling and troubling symptom of a broader issue – which bequeaths blame on entire cultures for the imagined sleights experienced by the west.

This superbly researched and thoroughly readable look at the world as it slowly disappears up its own euphemism is a searing, troubling insight into what we’re devolving into. It’s telling, and chilling. And yet, it remains optimistic by its conclusion. There remains hope for us yet.

Fascinating stuff.

‘Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us’ by Will Storr
$32.99, trade paperback
Picador

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