Back in 2014, the American Psychiatric Association published a spoof piece about “selfitis”, which they said was a mental disorder associated with the need to constantly take selfies and post them on social media.
The constant surge and gradual normalisation of digital technology has been met with criticism from individuals and organisations all over the world, who deem the “obsessive” act of phone and computer usage as a sign of laziness and passivity, and to some extent a new mental disorder.
Dr Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University’s psychology department, said: “A few years ago, stories appeared in the media claiming that the condition of selfitis was to be classed as a mental disorder.
“While the story was revealed to be a hoax, it didn’t mean that the condition of selfitis didn’t exist.
“We have now appeared to confirm its existence and developed the world’s first Selfitis Behaviour Scale to assess the condition.”
The study was carried out on 400 participants from India – who have the most most users on Facebook – and conducted using the “Selfitis Behaviour Scale”, which they used to determine how severely people are afflicted by the condition.
Using a scale of 1, for strongly disagree, to 5 for strongly agree, people determine how acute their selfitis is by responding to statements such as “sharing my selfies creates healthy competition with my friends and colleagues”, and “I feel more popular when I post my selfies on social media”.
Dr Janarthanan Balakrishnan said: “Typically, those with the condition suffer from a lack of self-confidence and are seeking to ‘fit in’ with those around them, and may display symptoms similar to other potentially addictive behaviours.
“Now the existence of the condition appears to have been confirmed, it is hoped that further research will be carried out to understand more about how and why people develop this potentially obsessive behaviour, and what can be done to help people who are the most affected.”
This “condition” is not so much a genuine disorder as much as it is a paradigm shift. While it’s true that people suffer from self-confidence and a vast number of insecurities, “selfitis” isn’t really a disorder.
Rather, it is a symptom – much like an attention seeker will use a number of mediums, physical or digital, to get the attention they want.
The central problem with this “Selfitis” news lies in a fundamental misunderstanding of technology, or more specifically social media. Social media does have an incredible number of flaws, but none of them seem particularly unique in our world.
Social media is an extension of human social interaction. While you may not be in physical contact with someone over a phone, many forms of your digital interaction will still be social and physical – such as hearing and talking, or seeing.
People don’t need to take selfies in order to express their insecurities, nor do they need Wi-Fi to find an outlet for unhealthy levels of competitiveness.
That’s not to say social media and our increasingly digitised world don’t encourage these kinds of behaviours. But they aren’t unique to social media, and digital technology is certainly not the root of the issue here.
The researchers studied 400 people, but it was not a cross-cultural or international study. The researchers also did not ask why these people felt the way they did. Why do we feel the need to post thousands of selfies? Why do we have such low levels of confidence, that we need to post selfies or seek out others for validation?
Perhaps before we begin diagnosing behaviours, we first place them in the context they exist. Also, it is important to remember that just because you don’t like a particular behaviour, doesn’t mean it is a disorder. That’s not how disorders are classified.