Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs And Selfies
Interested in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Selfies? Read on!
In 1943 Abraham Maslow published a paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. In his paper, Maslow outlines the patterns of human motivation and behavior. We’re all familiar with the pyramid of needs, but what many of us may not be aware of is that Maslow focused his study on “the healthiest 1% of the college student population” and based much of his work on observations of exemplary individuals like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and statesman and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. When Maslow ended up placing the concept of self-actualization at the top of the proverbial pyramid, an artifact of later social psychologists as Maslow himself did not convey messages through the pyramid imagery, he did so knowing that the full potential of the self cannot be achieved until the previous, more basic needs of the individual are fully met and satisfied. Maslow’s self-actualization theories may have a lot more in common with the modern mobile phone selfie movement than we might think. Let me explain.
According to Maslow and much of the modern thinking around sociological frameworks, and even management practices throughout organizations like McKinsey, Bain and Harvard Business School, self-actualization is something that we plan carefully in our minds and express in various forms throughout the course of life – work and play – often well before we obtain mastery of the state.
The concept is an ancient one, rooted in even deeper history tracing back at least as far as René Descartes’ philosophical proposition of the Cogito; probably much deeper and broader than even Descartes. Cogito ergo sum, latin for approximately “I think, therefore I exist,” can be thought of as a precursor to expression. A sort of inner-self expression that sets the table for outward displays, plans, actions and behaviors. More specifically, self-actualization, as Maslow teaches us, takes an outward form that helps us express our desires.
These expressions of what we desire, how we choose to outwardly display ourselves, would often take the form of paintings, photography, sketches and inventions. This is not a new concept, even for Maslow. Self-actualization and self-expression have always been closely linked. Egyptian hieroglyphics, Greek sculpture, early Renaissance self-portraiture, the modern selfie…
In an age where snapping photos with a mobile phone is as ubiquitous as fast food, electricity, air and water, it’s not much of a leap to suggest that selfies have become the modern means of daily self-actualization. We desire to outwardly display how we feel, how we think and how we wish to present ourselves to the world; a selfie helps accomplish that. In fact, selfies allow us to present a version of ourselves that may be filtered, may be cropped, may be placed in another country, or even posed with people whom we’ve never met. The selfie is the perfect atomic unit of self-expression in today’s highly connected, social, mobile world that seems to move faster than any period in history before us.
Our prediction is that the mobile selfie is not going away anytime soon. Selfies are a core part of humanity and communication – and now, with innovation in apps and mobile phone cameras, selfies are a core part of what people enjoy doing daily with their most treasured digital tools; iPhones, Samsungs and Xiaomis!
Selfies are how we think we want the world to see us. The difference between today’s expressions of self and the past, is that, today, we can create social artifacts of the self faster and with more volume than ever before. We have more possibilities, more capturable moments and more ways to present ourselves with the selfie, faster than Vincent van Gogh could ever have dreamt of.
Earlier in this post we referenced that Maslow focused on the “healthiest” populations he could think of for studying behavioral motivations. This is important because it illustrates that the fundamental desire to “show” how we wish to self-actualize and how we aim to achieve such a state is not a marginal or niche activity. Self-actualization, just like selfies, is a mainstream human desire that manifests itself in the form of behavioral expressions. It always has been and always will be. There have been critics of the modern selfie movement that suggest selfie’ing is a narcissistic behavior, but said critics would be wrong to think that the trend, in its entirety, is made up of egotistical, selfie-obsessed maniacs. Like any form of expression, whether ancient cave carvings or modern social media divas, there are always those that create extreme displays of the self. This is not necessarily indicative on mainstream selfie behavior, nor should we categorically accept that selfie’ing is a narcissistic behavior. It’s not.
The bottomline is that selfies are a very natural outgrowth of significant technology advancements in the mobile phone and social media era. Selfies form one of the most powerful trends in communication and expression of the self. We think Maslow would be pleased to see trillions of selfies among billions of people expressing themselves through the lens of a mobile phone camera.