Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Family life

J.F. Pisani

This is my life as a commuter: I dash to the train and I dash from the train, and then I have to make my way through Grand Central Terminal, weaving in and out and around people who are talking on their cell phones or taking “selfies.”

Do you have any idea how frustrating it is when you’re racing to catch the 5:41 at rush hour and the only thing that stands between you and a desperately needed ride home is a phalanx of people taking pictures of themselves?

Last week I got stuck behind a young woman who was walking in front of me, making a video of herself while talking to her smartphone camera. There have also been perilous occasions when I’ve almost had an eye poked out by someone’s selfie stick when that person was trying to get a photo with the terminal ceiling in the background. Is this a symptom of the narcissism epidemic that afflicts our society or is it just old-fashioned fun mixed with some self-absorption?

Pope Francis, himself, has been known to take a selfie now and then, to the delight of his “fans.” Young people visiting the Vatican typically find an accommodating pontiff when they raise their cellphones and grin broadly. Could you ask for a greater celebrity than the pope to have your picture taken with?

He certainly trumps other celebrities, many of whom have made an industry out of self-portraits, such as Kim Kardashian, who sent pictures of herself in provocative poses to millions of followers every day ... until she was robbed in a heist at a Paris hotel and lost a $4.5 million ring that she posted on social media.

Pop star Selena Gomez boasts 100 million followers on Instagram, the photo-sharing site, followed by Taylor Swift with 91.4 million and Beyonce with 85.3 million. What does it all mean? Celebrities aren’t exactly the best role models and many young people are following their example. Blame technology, blame the self-esteem movement, blame reality TV. Plus, I’m beginning to worry about my four daughters, who have never been camera shy, and now their toddlers are being enlisted in the cause. Every week I get several dozen photos and videos – which I truly cherish – of my two new grandsons and granddaughter.

However, I wonder what the eventual effect will be of being exposed to the camera so often. What happens when parents have a camera constantly in their kids’ faces? Call me crazy but I’m convinced the babies are starting to respond to the camera with fake smiles. When they see it, they behave differently. This is probably how the Kardashians got their start.

One study found that young women can spend up to five hours a week taking pictures of themselves. The survey said women age 16 to 25 devote about 16 minutes to each picture-taking session three times a day. That’s a lot of self-absorption. Half of the 2,000 women in the study admitted they take selfies “all the time.”

Experts say members of the younger generation often suffer from what is known as “selfie-esteem,” which means their level of confidence in their bodies is determined by the number of “likes” they get on photos they post on social media.

Research by Ohio State University concluded that men who often posted selfies online had high scores on tests to measure psychopathy and narcissism, which is associated with an inflated self-image. There’s even a clinical term for the condition – Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Pope Francis had something to say about the topic. “We have ‘mirror men and women’ (who are wedded to their own image), who are closed in on themselves and are constantly looking at themselves. These are religious narcissists, right?” the Pope said in a homily last year.

Narcissism is an insidious syndrome, one that afflicts those who “close their hearts out of fear, insecurity or vanity.” The pope said that what they truly need is the Holy Spirit to make them docile and open to love, so they can move beyond their self-obsession and develop empathy and concern for others.

It’s time to put down the smartphones … and ask for help.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.