Photoplay and The Role it is Shaping Our Perceptions

For some of us, it might feel like the smartphone has been around forever. New technology has long-lasting effects on societies. This article will explore the effects the smartphone has played on our self-image and how its use in two dimensions impacts our self-esteem: the edited image, the selfie, and the immediate distribution of that image. We will explore the paradox between what we have gained from a virtual relationship vs. our in-person relationships.

First, let us step back in time to explore some historical events that made the invention of the smartphone possible. In the 1970s, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) allowed limited competition in long-distance services, including selling network access to alternative service provides, at below-cost rates. Local service was off-limits. The U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T based on complaints by Microwave Communication Inc. (MCI) and other long-distance providers. After an eight-year battle, in 1982, the company settled with the government under conditions in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, ordained by Judge Harold H. Greene. This landmark settlement would be finalized two years later in 1984, required AT&T to divest its local operating companies and limit its service to the long-distance market. Michigan Bell became part of Ameritech, one of seven regional “Baby Bells” that assumed control of local calling services. AT&T was allowed to continue manufacturing telephone equipment, and twenty-three years later, in 2007, the first smartphone was introduced. (Katz)

Before the invention of the smartphone and the internet, people developed relationships in person. On a cellular level, we communicate chemosensory information that tells us behavioral relevant information such as sexual status, danger, and social organization. We can sense changes in moods and train our brains to understand the world around us. Relationships in the virtual world diminish many of the organic experiences we have in person. Selfies have affected our self-esteem, and some ideas about how we are can recapture some of what we have lost.

The self-portrait has been around as long as photography has existed. The smartphone has made self-portrait ubiquitous with the ease and availability of a camera in our pockets. The selfies, the picture of oneself at arms-length, emerged. The tool to capture a self-portrait and distribute it at a rapid rate is at everyone’s disposal. The assumption is that one’s self-esteem would rise with the selfie. Research has found it be directly proportional to the user’s decline in self-esteem. (Fried)

In-person is where we garner information at a chemosensory level.  Through our chemosensory communications, we gather information about our sexual status, danger, and social organization. Studies have discovered that the perception of pheromonal properties of androgen steroids can alter mood and behavior in humans.  Pheromones are substances secreted to the outside by an individual and received by a second individual of the same species, in which they release a specific reaction. Their definition was decisive for the differentiation of “releasing” and “priming” pheromones. Priming pheromones produce a change of state in the receiver, usually a change in a hormonal secretion that primes the animal for a later response. Releasing or signaling pheromones elicit an immediate behavioral response from the individual receiving the stimulus. (Pietrowsky)

The internet, social media sites and the edited self-image block our chemosensory transmission of information. As a result, we have a distorted perception of how we measure up and how we receive information about those we relate to others. Social media as an avenue to interact with others disrupts our instincts, and anxiety rises.

A 2013 poll reported that one-third of all photos taken within the 18-24 age group were self-portraiture selfies. In 2014, 93 billion selfies were taken per day by Android users, Google estimated. The selfie culture has influenced human behavior in the physical world. Museums are dedicating exhibition space to cater to Instagram and Snapchat users. Plastic surgeons have seen an increase in patients seeking facial surgeries to look better in selfies. In 2017 a little over half of their patients sought plastic surgery to look better, up 13% from 2016. Some patients seek plastic surgery to adjust their features to match the digital features in Snapchat called “Snapchat Dysphoria.”

By 2018, almost all American teenagers (95%) used smartphones and (45%) reported that they are online ‘almost constantly. In the same survey, use of social media was high, with the most frequent use for YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%), Snapchat (69%), with fewer using Facebook (51%), or Twitter (32%). These are intense rates of use. In an extensive national survey of 2600 adolescents and children, the typical adolescent is exposed to an average of about nine hours of screen time (meaning social media, television, and video games). The average teen spends 2 hours and 42 minutes on their smartphones daily, along with 1 hour and 37 minutes on a computer and 45 minutes on a tablet. The total daily dose of technology for teens is 6 hours and 40 minutes. (Ghaemi)

At this level of virtual relationships, teens and children are missing the organic experiences of in-person relationships. As a young girl, when I wanted to invite my friend to play, I would have to climb on my bike, ride ¼ mile north on my street, knock on her door and ask, “Can you play?” That simple gesture taught me how to take risks, sit in my anticipation of what her answer would be. The certainty that our relationship was strong enough to withstand any answer, and if she couldn’t, there would be another time to play. We knew we would still be friends. There was a 60% to 70% chance she could play—that uncertainty connected neurological pathways that supports me today in taking risks in business and relationships.

Our virtual world is so distorted that it has a profound effect on our ability to trust what we see in our virtual world. Portrait manipulation is a process in portrait photography where the final result is determined through a series of elements that include the head’s pose and the expression to hair and makeup. The clothes are chosen and by filters and software that photographs can be edited in post-processing. In the world of filmmaking, the mise en scène everything in the frame, includes costume, hair and makeup, lighting, camera location and angle, the lens focus, and the field depth. The more advanced photographer will include ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to craft a piece of art.

In traditional print photography, these elements are baked at the time the shutter closes. The high-end film photography would “dodge and burn” to locally modify exposure during printing and would airbrush the film for a final product. In today’s digital age, software packages like Adobe Photoshop® make photo manipulation commonplace. The identity of the subject that includes makeup and pose can be easily modified in post-processing. (O. J. Fried)

Our perceptions of the self are determined by the distance between the camera and subject. Closer shots are perceived to be benevolent, reasonable, peaceful, pleasant, approachable.

Smart and strong are perceived in larger distances. Shots taken in personal spaces are considered less trustworthy, competent, and attractive. The close-ups of selfies exhibit a noticeable perspective phenomenon. The limitations of the selfie as a one-shot close-up puts constraints on the way they can be portrayed.

As much as we realize we should strive to judge people by their character beyond their looks, our physical appearance impacts how others treat us. One of the most vulnerable groups are adolescent and their perception of body image. Salomon and Brown found that body shame among youth increased with self-objectifying social media use. It extends to self-photo editing and body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls. Among the people who are naturally dissatisfied with their body image will edit their online image. The natural conclusion is that the editing tool would be empowering. The reverse happens, where the editing of an image increases our dissatisfaction with our body image and widens the gap between reality and the perceived ideal. The balance between the natural world and the online world is a difficult one to walk.

The perception into putting effort into one’s appearance and not being perceived as deceptive.

What is the solution? Bradford Hill’s nine guidelines for the association are cautions; the available evidence for social media and psychiatric harm begins to show evidence for seven: strength, consistency, temporality, dose-response, plausibility, coherence, and experiment. Smartphones could be treated like alcohol, best used in adulthood but restricted beforehand. Delaying smartphone and social media use after high school, preferably after age sixteen, is recommended. (S. Ghaemi)

For everyone, have more in-person relationships. Reach out to your friends, especially those who are single, living alone. If the social distancing of 2020 taught us anything, we are all in this together. We are getting out of it together, not alone. Limit the use of our phones for scheduling to meet up in person. We need in-person relationships.

Executive Contributor at Brainz Magazine