4 Apr 2023

The etiquette of the selfie

It is estimated that 93 per cent of the British population owns a smartphone, so it is scarcely surprising that we’ve all become used to the selfie phenomenon. Whether you’re visiting a top tourist site, a panoramic viewpoint, or an exclusive restaurant, you will inevitably see someone taking a selfie (sometimes with friends included) against an alluring backdrop.

While many of these selfies will languish, unlooked-at and unloved, in the phone’s memory, you can be sure that many will find their way to Instagram or other social media platforms. Selfies can be a very strong statement about who we are, and what we want to project about ourselves. They are primarily aspirational and do not tend to chronicle failures and tribulations (unless it is to elicit sympathy). Their primary purpose is to broadcast a positive and upbeat message about our life and our experiences to the wider world.

Taking a selfie is not necessarily an exercise in self-love. It can simply be a way of recording interesting moments and creating a photographic chronicle of a trip or experience. It can also be used as an aide memoir to ensure that you don’t forget an interesting meal or location, or as a visual shorthand that is used to communicate with friends. Sometimes there is nobody around to take that vital, never-to-be-repeated shot, and a selfie is the only option.

However, it is an unfortunate fact that it is quite possible to become addicted to taking selfies, to the point that it becomes a compulsion (if you’re posting several a day you’re pretty far gone). Compulsive selfie-takers are frequently accused of narcissism and an obvious danger signal is when selfies only include images of the photographer – no friends, partners, children, pets, landmarks. A relentless focus on the photograph-taker shows worrying signs of egomania and self-aggrandisement, although in fact the selfie addiction might be really be an indication of acute self-consciousness and insecurity.

Whatever the interpretation, the stream of selfies is not producing the desired effect. It makes the poster look self-obsessed, needy, boastful and insecure – none of them attractive traits. The impact of a barrage of self-regarding poses can border on black comedy because it reveals so much naked self-absorption.

Selfie Etiquette

If you are still on the nursery slopes of selfie obsession and feel that you can take, and post, the occasional selfie without entering screaming narcissism territory, brush up on your selfie etiquette, to ensure that you are not causing offence:

• It’s not all about you

Think about the other people who will appear in the photograph, whether intentionally or accidentally, and ask them if it’s okay.

• Have some respect

It’s all about context and there will be places where a selfie is entirely inappropriate: in church; at weddings or funerals; at the scene of an accident or misfortune; at any time when taking a picture of yourself draws attention away from the main focus of an event.

• Safeguard privacy

Many people do not appreciate being subjected to compulsive photography and may feel that your habit of snapping yourself and your friends is intrusive. Check with other people before posting images of them and understand that not everyone wants his/her life laid bare online.

• Follow the rules

If you’re taking selfies you should adhere to accepted rules of photography; don’t take photographs if you will offend or upset anyone; ask permission if necessary; if there’s a no photo policy, respect it; never take a selfie when you’re doing something else that you should be focusing on 100 per cent (eg cycling, skateboarding, extreme sports).

• Get out of the way!

Your photo might seem like a top priority, but always remain conscious of the people around you, and ensure that you’re not obstructing them, blocking the view, or preventing them from taking photographs.

• Be courteous to celebrities

If you’ve spotted someone famous, your first thought might be to document the event for posterity by taking a selfie with them. But you should never barge into their personal space with camera held aloft and a huge smile pasted on your face. You must always ask permission first, and do so politely: “Excuse me, would you mind….” etc. If they show any hesitation, instantly melt away – no ifs, no buts.

• Enjoy real experiences

Don’t get too hung up on getting the perfect photograph. You don’t want to be missing out on real life experiences because you are too preoccupied with recording them. Selfies should be a useful tool, not a way of life.


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