Editorials

Mind that selfie habit. It sends a picture to outsiders - and it ain’t pretty, WSU study says

Climbing Vance Creek Bridge for a selfie is illegal, but that’s not stopping anyone

Vance Creek Bridge, the second tallest arched railroad bridge in the U.S., has become a magnet for young people to illegally climb it and shoot selfies for social media. The bridge, located in the Olympic Mountains, is dangerous, says its owner.
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Vance Creek Bridge, the second tallest arched railroad bridge in the U.S., has become a magnet for young people to illegally climb it and shoot selfies for social media. The bridge, located in the Olympic Mountains, is dangerous, says its owner.

As another South Sound summer slides inexorably toward fall, the transition is marked by leaves turning, days shortening and evenings growing cooler. But there’s one unmistakable sign of time’s passage that a person doesn’t have to go outdoors to observe:

Backdrops in selfie photos are changing.

Family vacation beach feet selfies are replaced by back-to-school footwear selfies. Summer booze cruise selfies give way to autumn frat party selfies. Dimwits with reckless selfie tendencies — like creeping up on a pack of hungry brown bears at a national park — will find new places to perform stunning acts of selfie stupidity — like the Puyallup Fair, Seahawks games or Crystal Mountain ski lift chairs.

Spend five minutes on social media and you’ll surely agree: When it comes to the creative art of cellphone self-portraiture, there is no off season.

In the unlikely event local folks were ever to run dry on ideas, never fear: The good people at Travel Tacoma+Pierce County compiled a webpage of The Best Selfie Spots in Tacoma, from the Bridge of Glass to the Umbrella Wall.

But it turns out they’re feeding a habit that’s widely viewed in a negative light — the kind that can’t be corrected by the auto-flash feature on an iPhone XS Max.

According to a new Washington State University study, people who regularly post selfies on Instagram aren’t perceived favorably by the outside world. The study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, found that those who appear in photos taken by someone else are seen as more likeable, dependable, successful and secure than selfie poseurs.

Can’t say we’re surprised, based on the examples of photographic self-indulgence (verging on self-parody) that proliferate across the digital universe — shots of wannabe supermodels making pouty lips, shots of wannabe bodybuilders flexing muscles, shots staged pretentiously in front of a mirror, like a selfie inside a selfie.

WSU researchers used a study group of 119 students from an unnamed university in the northwest U.S. (Wild guess: Its mascot is a cougar). The undergrads were asked to rate the Instagram profiles of a second group of students in the southern U.S., whom they didn’t know or follow on social media. Some profiles were chock-full of selfies, others not so much. The northwest students picked up on visual cues, giving scores across a spectrum of 13 personality traits.

Bottom line: You might want to put down your selfie stick, risk some nominal human contact and start asking strangers to snap your picture.

So, is selfie fanaticism a modern-day form of narcissism, similar to the tragic Greek mythological figure who couldn’t stop gazing at himself in a reflecting pool? The social-science jury is still out. Chris Barry, a WSU psychology professor and the study’s lead author, said he tested that theory five years ago and the results were inconclusive.

Still, it’s not such a bad idea for all of us to monitor our social media output with an eye for self-absorption and how posts may be interpreted in off-putting ways.

Among his many pearls of wisdom, Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.”

Then again, how many Instagram followers did ol’ Ben have?

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