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Explainer: What your self-portrait says about you

Or ‘selfie’ as they are known amongst the Instagram and Facebook generation…

CONSIDER THIS: Instagram has 100 million active users. And the Facebook-owned photo-sharing service has, at last count, 109 million photos tagged, simply, “#me.”

By the numbers, if you’re on Instagram and you haven’t taken a picture of yourself, you’re doing it wrong. Yet the digital self-portrait—the selfie—is somehow seen as a scourge, a threat to our well-being, a trend that must end.

We talked to psychologist Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, who dismissed these critiques as weak pop science.

“Most of these people who toss around these psychological terms like ‘narcissism’ or ‘addiction’ don’t understand that those are serious diagnostic criteria,” Rutledge says.

“We’ve gotten so we just chuck these things around, and it scares people. People are basically scared of technology because it’s new, and we’re pathologising it.”

While the mass adoption of smartphones and social networks is new, the urge to record one’s own image is as old as humanity, she says, pointing to cave paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Along with photography came the self-portrait. But where we had to sit still and grim-faced for 19th-century cameras, Rutledge points out, we now can take photos anywhere, at a moment’s notice.

“In this environment, the only way to get to know people is to disclose something of yourself,” Rutledge says.

And there’s nothing more self-revelatory than a photo:

Explainer: What your self-portrait says about you
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Owen Thomas

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