The Empty Self(-ie)

October 13, 2016 by Martha’s Dad

woman-taking-selfie-herself-1032420Ok, my pub quiz question of the week…  Who invented the selfie and when?   According to a post by Noel Murray over on the Psychology Today blog, that dubious honour is claimed by a guy named Lester Wisbrod, a former Hollywood cameraman, way back in 1981.  Went on to take over 150 pictures of himself too, I gather.  Mmmnnn… still don’t really get the idea of the selfie, but maybe that’s a generational thing.  Back in the days when I started studying psychology, constantly taking pictures of yourself was called narcissism!

Still, Murray’s post is really interesting in that it seeks to explain the concept of the selfie in consumer behaviour terms.  Murray’s basic premise is linked to the idea of the Empty Self, a term first coined by Cushman in 1990 to denote the social-psychological gap left by industrialisation, urbanisation and the eroding of family/community ties.  To fill this emptiness, Cushman reasoned, we often engage in particular forms of consumption instead, such as comfort eating.  The junk food replaces the family, I guess.  It’s a very interesting idea and Murray’s reasoning that social media generally – and photo-sharing in particular – are plugging the exact same gap among millennials seems highly convincing to me.  Why else would 80% of the population feel compelled to have a phone with a camera built in, more than half of whom keep taking pictures of themselves to share in a perceived ‘virtual community’?

Incidentally, did you know selfies were once referred to as “Lesters” in honour of dear Mr Wisbrod?   Still not convinced they’re a good thing though… and don’t get me started on the subject of the “selfie stick”!   Or should that be a Lester stock, perhaps?