The Real Reason Why We Take Selfies With Each Other (And It's Not To Look Good)

by Ariel Seidner

“But first, let me take a selfie!”

We all know the selfie: the self-taken photograph we snap with the secondary camera on the front of our phones that allows for a convenient preview of what the picture will look like before it’s taken.

We use editing filters to make ourselves look better, hold the phone at weird angles so that the light hits our faces just right, and we use Snapchat when desperate to take a selfie in the dark because the app allows for a front flash. (I can’t be the only one who has done that.)

This seems like a lot of work. Why not just ask someone to take a picture for you? Because, truly, selfies are more than pictures. Taking a selfie is much more than a mere photograph of yourself, especially when other people are in the frame.

A selfie is a calculated form of self-representation, and when done with other people, it’s a classic form of human bonding via mutual concern for a common goal.

Standing there and smiling while someone 10 feet away takes a picture of you and your friends is an antiquated practice.

Taking a selfie is the way we — as a generation — use the technology available to us to achieve the same social outcome as having one person step out and stand across the room to take a picture of everyone else (nobody ever wants to be that one person).

We want those same tangible, photographic demonstrations of our friendships and relationships. We want the same evidence of a night spent having fun and looking great. But mostly, we, as a generation engrossed in the deliberate manipulation of digital self-representation, want to be in control of it all.

There’s something uniquely human about the bond that develops between people when working toward a common goal — any common goal. It’s the same kind of partnership that exists within sports teams and group projects, or between colleagues and coworkers.

Humans are social creatures. To seek bonds with other people is instinctive, and working together to achieve a common goal is an extremely common means of interpersonal relationship development.

It’s in our nature; it’s a means of social fitness. We use the opportunities we have with other people — whether we realize it or not — to prove to them that we have homogeneous concerns and interests and to verify our worthiness as an ally in this socially competitive world.

When you take a selfie with another person or a group of people, you automatically engage in a new kind of social bond as you awkwardly position and reposition yourselves, position and reposition the camera, and even go as far as to relocate all for the sake of capturing a flattering photograph that not only makes you look good, but also serves as photographic proof of social success.

This instance of such planning and mutual concern for capturing the best possible representation of the moment is one that creates a certain kind of experience that goes beyond the traditional “stand and say cheese.”

The selfie also permits this social validation because the technology we have not only allows us to take selfies, but more importantly, provides us with the means to share the selfies with the world.

Before the Internet and social media, photos were stored in paper albums that might still sit on a shelf in your bedroom. Sure, the photos are still sharable, but not with the click of a button.

The social media that defines the world in which we live (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, for example) gives us the means to share our experiences with anyone and everyone right as they happen.

This gives the selfie a huge opportunity to use its social value on a much larger scale. Because we are able to share our selfies immediately, they become more than just a validation of our relationships with the people in the pictures. They become a validation of your relationship through the eyes of people in the world.

Posting such a selfie with other people on social media is a powerful demonstration of your relationship with them and a powerful demonstration of your success in terms of social fitness.

It shows your Facebook friends or Instagram followers that not only have you shared a special moment with other people in taking a photograph together, but you also have been fortunate and successful enough in this socially competitive world to land yourself in an exciting and desirable social situation.

Though it may seem like some kind of trendy, Generation-Y fad, the selfie actually makes sense. It’s a display of the distinctively human desire to feel important and value interpersonal relationships.

So, the next time you are with friends and stick your arm out to snap a quick selfie, know that you aren’t taking it to look good.

The desires that motivate taking a selfie are instinctive and human and touch on the natural desire for social intimacy and validation. Our generation just happens to have the technology to make it happen in a new way.

Photo via Instagram