After Prince Harry urges an admirer not to take a selfie with him during his tour of Australia, it’s time we all put away our smartphones, says recovering selfie addict Alice Audley
Prince Harry has decried the ‘‘art’’ of sticking one’s arm in the air, while holding a camera, and taking a picture of oneself (often alongside something or someone famous) – the selfie. A teenage girl waiting among the crowds straining to see the Prince at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on Easter Monday begged him to pose with her for a selfie photograph.
“No, I hate selfies,” Prince Harry replied. “Seriously, you need to get out of it. I know you’re young, but selfies are bad.” (Rather sweetly, he then turned back and urged her to take a normal photograph of him).
Prince Harry told his fan that ‘selfies are bad’
Many, no doubt, will agree with him about the ubiquitous selfie. Since its arrival in popular culture in 2013, it has come to dominate social media. It started off slowly, a trickle of pictures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but within months selfies were everywhere. Last Christmas’s must-have gift was the selfie stick, a lengthening device that connects to your phone via Bluetooth and enables you to take better selfies.
Sometimes the selfie can be put to good use, as in the 2014 #nomakeupselfie, where women took pictures of their bare faces and donated money to Cancer Research UK (£8 million was raised in just six days). But mostly selfies are pure vanity projects,a way to brag: ‘‘look how good I look’’, or ‘‘look who I met’’, or ‘‘here’s me and [celebrity name]’’. No one epitomises this more than the Queen of the Selfie, Kim Kardashian, who alongside the sexualised selfies she posts to her 29.4 million followers on Instagram, also creates Selfie Books – whole bound albums of pictures of herself – for her husband rapper Kanye West.
Kim Kardashian is notorious for her selfie-taking
I have some sympathy with Kim because I, too, was a selfie addict although I’m now in recovery. I know just how hard it is to kick the habit.
My own addiction started innocently enough, I wanted to put pictures on my new blog – The Audley Chronicle. But then, I noticed how much better I looked with a flattering filter – the transfer filter. And then how much better I looked when I used the editing device picMonkey – whiter teeth, smoother skin and, my favourite, the liquify tool which can make you appear thinner! I became enamoured, dependent and eventually addicted. Wherever I went, a selfie was required. By the Taj Mahal, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, in the sweaty depths of Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Selfie, selfie and more selfies.
Alice Audley at the height of her selfie obsession – taken with a bespoke selfie stick
I was obsessed. And then, I went to Singapore and discovered the selfie stick. What greater gift to myself could there be! We were inseparable, me and the stick. But then, well, then things came to a head. When, at Christmas, whilst perfecting a shot from behind –fishing rod style selfie – I accidentally hit my 91-year-old Granny on the head. Something had to give – and I gave away my selfie stick.
But I’m a twentysomething who recognised that my habit had got out of control. Problems arise – and this is where Prince Harry was offering sound advice – when it is youngsters or teenagers who go selfie-mad. “Kids are hardwired to copy adults,” explains Emily Lovegrove, a psychologist who specialises in bullying, “and when they see – in their eyes – successful adults, they want to ape their behaviour.”
Children have become addicted to technology
And with more children having mobile devices than ever before – according to a 2013 study by comparison site uSwitch.com some 9 per cent of British five-year-olds have mobile phones - it’s getting harder to monitor both the selfie-taking and where the selfies are being distributed.
It is something that pre-occupies the Mumsnet forum where many discussions have taken place on how to wean children off their devices and the selfie habit.
“The trick is to encourage your children to see smartphones as brilliant tools, not life-support systems,” says Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet. “Sharing silly selfies with a closed group of friends is one thing. Sharing compromising photos with, potentially, the entire world – including prospective university entrance tutors, employers and your grandparents – is obviously another.”
Roberts suggests that parents need to lead by example and put their phones out of sight and out of mind. “Parents need to try not to be hypocrites about it,” she says . “Lecturing your child about mobile addiction with your own phone glued to your hand may not be a very effective approach.”
Parents must lead by example and ditch their technology, too – says Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet
Debbie Cain, a nanny for 20 years who is now part of the Eden Nanny network,agrees that parents must take the lead in initiating family digital detox – and there’s no time like the Easter break. “Children see adults using all this technology and want to do it themselves,” she says – but easy access to smartphones is spoiling how they interact with their peers:. “Many children nowadays will have friends over and they’ll just sit on separate sofas on different iPads taking pictures or playing games.”
As for selfies? “I don’t let children do them,” says Cain. “We should try to encourage them to take pictures of other things, rather than themselves. Trying to get the best angles, look the best, it’s not good for confidence or self-esteem.
“Group pictures are fine. Pictures with friends are fine. But it’s not healthy to take so many pictures of yourself.”
Prince Harry may have done parents and children a favour, then. It’s vital that we – children and adults – learn to respect others. Not just our selfies.