Selfies to Trump: The 15 year road to collective narcissism

The first selfie cameras on mobile phones were introduced in 2003 with Sony Ericsson 1010 and the Motorola A836. Coincidentally six months before Facebook launched.

Quite obviously a selfie of you doing something mildly ‘awesome’ is of no value unless you can shove it in the faces of your friends and ideally total strangers and so I would argue that the introduction of Facebook and the selfie camera at the same time guaranteed the instant popularity of both.

The camera gave you the means of capturing the banal trivia of your life and Facebook gave you the platform to unleash your self-obsessed, worst-self. Everyone could suddenly boast on an epic scale. In essence, everyone was able to say ‘Look at me and how fabulous my life/dinner/boyfriend/girlfriend/new shoe is’

This perfect storm of technology and platform took off just as the explosion of reality TV took place.


  • Average Joe (200
  • The Bachelorette (2003)
  • Cupid (2003)
  • For Love or Money (2003)
  • Joe Millionaire (2003)
  • Married by America (2003)
  • Mr. Personality (2003)
  • Room Raiders (2003)
  • Three’s a Crowd (2003) (UK)
  • Boy Meets Boy (2004)
  • Date My Mom (2004)
  • The Littlest Groom (2004)
  • My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé (2004)

People were becoming famous simply because they were on TV and the cult of ‘Famous for being famous’ was born.

Donald Trump appeared in season 1 of the Apprentice in January 2004. Interestingly, Trump was sceptical, stating that reality television “was for the bottom-feeders of society” but I’m sure he would deny that now. They are his base after all (whoops a bit political).

Keeping up with the Kardashians started in 2007.

So the public was embracing the opportunity to show off about their lives, to take cleavage shots of themselves and generally promote an idealised version of their mundane, trivial existence. The notion of a personal brand was emerging as people began to tailor their posts and images to present an idealised version of themselves. In other words a form of vanity publishing. I came off Facebook in the late 1980’s as I couldn’t decide who I was talking to, my clients or friends. I was either pretending to spend my nights at the opera (false) or ‘necking’ pints the Ferret and Firkin (true).

In 2005 Wayne Fromm, a Canadian Inventor patented the Selfie Stick and from that point on, millions of people have experienced tourism in the rearview mirror by turning their back on what they came to see and looking at the phone screen. As a keen photographer, I’m in danger of looking for the shot rather than the view but if you ever see me with a selfie stick you have my permission to club me to death with it.

So by 2006 vanity was a pretty much global phenomenon and then Reddit and Twitter launched in 2005 and 2006 respectively and trolling and narcissism became a reality. The dictionary definition of narcissism is an excessive preoccupation with or admiration of oneself. Trolling is saying unkind/revolting/hateful things because you think your opinions are better than someone else’s. Possibly this should be called verbal narcissism.

So people could build a fantasy life sharing images of their wonderful holiday, their amazing friends, their addiction to pseudo self-help bullshit philosophy while getting on Twitter and threatening to rape a game developer because she was a woman or inciting people to kill a Muslim because his imaginary God wasn’t the same as their imaginary God.

And they could do this at scale.

We had developed a culture that applauds vanity, condones or even encourages abuse and values narcissism. Is it any wonder Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016?

He is arguably the most skilled media manipulator in American history and the media laps up his insane ramblings like a battered wife with Stockholm syndrome. As Stephen Fry said a while ago, “the only way to get at him is to ignore him” but who would do that. Anyone?

So you (I’m British) have a president who still commands 87% approval from his own party and 47% overall (Gallup June 2018) after separating families at the border, withdrawing from UN Human rights bodies, not ratifying the Paris climate change agreement, praising dictators and abandoning most forms of human decency. What’s more, portraying an idealised version of yourself and saying any old garbage is now acceptable. I think social media and our attention seeking hubris allowed Trump to emerge from under his rock.

He is tragically the outcome of a culture that celebrates self-obsession. 


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