“It would easy to describe the behaviour as self-obsessed and exhibitionist. But the issue is more complex than that. And far more troubling. If one is to take the word of experts who are looking into the behaviour of young people, we are looking at a selfie-led Armageddon. The end of society as we know it. We are breeding a generation of potentially ruthless narcissists who might not develop empathetic centres in their brains. Lack of empathy is what causes much destructive and aberrant behaviour in our society.”

This was one of the first paragraphs of an article I came across earlier this week in The Australian.  Yes, the selfie is something I have bemoaned before for its attention-seeking and over-sexualising properties. But an individual selfie is one thing. Seems like the culture of the selfie, on the other hand, is a whole other ball game.

Why, you ask? Well because in the past, I might have cautioned against its negative aspects, but then admitted that it’s not like it was killing anyone. But if the selfie is leading to the death of empathy, who knows! The effects can officially be described as detrimental.

For one, what is the point of a selfie? It’s about affirmation. It’s about how many “likes” they can get, and at the end of the day that is how they will determine their value. Disagree if you will, but I feel like the instant emotional responses of your Facebook friends and other strangers are much too fickle to find your worth in. And on the flipside, they’re training us in quick judgements. Thumbs up or down – easy as that. Because who needs time to reflect or think deeply? Take that into real life, and no wonder we are so quickly critical of others and have no patience for them if we don’t instantly love them.

As pointed out in the article, there are also the issues of brain development. Narcissism has always been around, and seeking acceptance is normal. But the culture of the selfie is really allowing this to get to an extreme. The brain is fully formed around 23, so young people can’t wait to fully develop their crucial social skills after that. And how to develop these social skills? Through meaningful human interactions of every sort – “smiles, sneers, flushes and changing voice tone, expressions of grief, pain or anger.” If you’re staring down at your phone all the time, this just isn’t going to happen.

What worries me most, however, is the lack of empathy. What will happen to politics and the governing of our nations: will anyone care anymore? Or will they just want the title because if looks good on their Instagram profile. What will happen to aid work? Snapping a selfie with an African child is not going to provide them with any basic needs. What will happen to marriages and families, which only flourish when the people involved forget themselves and give fully to the others? Could a lack of empathy and interest only in one’s self be related to the increase in violent crimes we seem to be seeing in the news? I honestly don’t think it’s over the top to be worrying about the next generation, and putting in the measures to ensure we avoid horror stories. 

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.