[Administrative Prequel: Yes, I am in the process of rebranding my blog, hence the new name. It’s because the Inner Happy has decreed the Inner Grumpy’s title suggestion for this blog is no longer appropriate.]
This week saw the rise and rise of the #myselfiechallenge within my church. Some people were discussing selfies post-conference, and somehow the conversation turned on Theotherjc, a self-confessed introvert who “doesn’t really do selfies”. Banter turned to challenge, and so he was roped into taking a selfie every day for a week, but he added the proviso that if he did it, they had to do it too. And so #myselfiechallenge was born.
Madness ensued. The Dude joined in on Day 3, and so I was able to observe the giddiness firsthand. For those that joined in the challenge, and those that watched from the sidelines and laughed, here are some of my thoughts on what happened.
- Tajfel and Turner’s Social Identity Theory strikes again.
We are all individuals, but we are all social animals too. As such, people who participated in the #myselfiechallenge considered themselves part of the group – and they wanted that group to be cool, and to be funny. And then they wanted to be the craziest person in the group (because the crazier, the better). So Theotherjc’s fairly mild wrap painted with sauce to look like a food face, with a hole for his nose became faces smeared with jam or peanut butter, or spaghetti beards. Because we were all in this together, and we wanted to know exactly what it meant to be a member of this group.
- It’s that Authority thing
Check out Milgram’s experiment on the web (briefly, people continued to give strangers electric shocks through their screams, and when they thought the person was unconscious because they had been instructed to do so). Theotherjc is a pastor person. He’s also really into the whole dynamics of leadership thing. One of his early comments included “#obedient”. Once people had signed up for the challenge, they felt they had to commit to the entire process – how were they to know it would include a make your face with food selfie, and a woke up by the alarm selfie? (To be clear, this is a natural bias within all of us, and not related to Theotherjc as a person.)
- That Whole Introvert/Extrovert thing
The introvert-extrovert personality construct is probably one of the most misunderstood, over-rated and abused concepts to arise from psychology (except for maybe, the thing with Pavlov and his dog. And Freud. And, okay, it’s not the worst but still). In general, we like to lump people into one category or the other – either introverted or extroverted. If you’re unlucky, you might be tagged with a “very” at the front. And Theotherjc has self-tagged himself as introvert. The self-tagged extroverts wouldn’t want to be outdone in showy-off by the introvert, so each of his challenge selfies had to be taken to another level (it’s the social identity theory referred to in point 1 playing out again). And then you have people like The Dude, who describes himself as “an introvert who wants to be an extrovert”.
The reality is, introversion-extroversion is a continuum, and sometimes it can be confused with creativity, or ability to communicate, or any number of other things. This is what happens when you try to use one word to describe an individual’s entire personality.
Interestingly, towards the end of the challenge, some more extraverted individuals attempted to claim Theotherjc as one of their own. He’s still a fairly introverted guy. But introverted people can do extroverted things from time to time. Especially when they have a filter (see below).
- Instagram is a Mask
The challenge occurred online, using the Instagram app. Here’s the thing. Your online identity is not who you really are. Instagram allows you to be somebody that you’re not. I would be interested to hear Theotherjc’s take on his experience of taking the selfies, and putting them online. The Dude told me he enjoyed being able to express a different side of his personality. And now the challenge is over, Theotherjc can put that expression of himself back into the drawer until he needs it again.
Of course, this also explains a certain amount of the extremism that occurred during the challenge (drawn-on beards, people taking pictures of people doing selfies, some of those crazy epic food selfies). People were creating a different version of themselves, they were part of the crowd. And they were literally putting on masks. Look up deindividuation online – when people are part of a larger group, they no longer feel as responsible for their individual actions. It wasn’t really you taking that photo of yourself in the cupboard. (Incidentally, this explains things like football riots too, so it can get out of hand.)
- The Power of the Narrative
Church on Sunday morning was buzzing with people talking about #myselfiechallenge, to the point that there was a mini bonus tag #mysundayselfie, and Theotherjc ended up putting up a few other challenges throughout the day. A bit like Jericho, where they marched round the walls 7 times on the last day. The Dude has a claim to fame – I’m now known in some circles as the wife of the guy with the pink wig. It’s a part of the story of the conference, even though it happened after conference.
And it’s fun to look at #myselfiechallenge as an event, rather than a series of one off challenges. As people, we are storytellers (that is what culture is – the story we tell ourselves about ourselves). And this has been a good story. The early challenges were fairly standard, technical skills and standard shots, but then there was the dressing up with something on your head, making your face with food, picture in a cupboard, and selfies through Sunday. People took the ideas and built on them, so that the #myselfiechallenge became a story, not just of Theotherjc, but of everybody who contributed. (Of course, the clearest example of making a narrative was when The Dude did a selfie in the garden amongst the trees after a his in the cupboard selfie – a most excellent Narnia reference.)
So thanks Theotherjc, and everybody who participated in #myselfiechallenge. It was a most excellent demonstration of the forces of social psychology. But probably wise to quit while you’re ahead. (Google the Stanford Prison Experiment and you’ll see why.)
The next post will definitely be shorter!
[edit: I am not saying that #myselfiechallenge was bad, nor that those who participated were wrong, or strange in any way. I was merely suggesting a few possible theoretical explanations or contributory factors to explain the phenomenon. I found it both an interesting and enjoyable activity to watch.]