A recent Tweet by Irish Cyberpsychologist, Dr. Mary Aiken caught our attention. For some time now, Dr Aiken has been highlighting how technology has infiltrated our lives and impacted us on a psychological level, right down to an individual’s level of self-perception. AI or Artificial Intelligence has many different levels. It is used in some of popular Apps, to digitally improve or alter images, before it shared online with others. There is a negative emotional and psychological side to this, many adults may have not considered or be aware of which is why it is the topic of this weeks #cotdage blog.
The concept of beauty is a very transient perception. One which is highly open to influence and manipulation, through mediums of TV, Movies and Magazines. The shoulder pads of the 80’s and big hairstyles did not survive the 90’s, as trends frequently come and go. Image manipulation has been around for a long time. Many top fashion magazines have been caught over the years, having featured airbrushed celebrities on their covers, to make them look thinner. The difference now however, is that the perception of what we consider as beautiful, is no longer naturally realistic or achievable. How can anyone possibly measure up against celebrities, who are not only altering their physical appearance through surgery, but also using very accessible technology to then alter their image even further in the persuit of perfection?
There has been a lot of criticism lately of the Apple’s iPhone XS, for over smoothing selfie photos. Some users complained the images were being over manipulated, producing an airbrushed version of the picture. These type of App are generally referred to as a ‘Beautification Apps’. There are countless Apps available, which are designed specifically to alter an image, by removing any unwanted features such as skin blemishes, or acne. One filter App promoted by Kyle Jenner enables users add ‘Beauty Filters’ to their Instagram images. It widens the user’s eyes, softens the skin, and creates plump fuller lips. If you wish you can even add length to eyelashes. It essentially enables the user, to look just like someone who has had surgery so extensive, she no longer even looks like herself.
We often ask children, are they the creator of their own destiny, when they create their online persona? Inevitably, almost all say yes. We try to educate both teens and parents about the how Apps work and their use of Gamification. Describing the process which is actually controlling and directing the user on popular Apps like Snapchat can leave audiences stunned. Gamification is used on many popular Apps that are used by children. It is designed to encourage user interaction by turning the App in to a game, often without the user even realising.
The Apps encourage frequent use through notifications and streaks, a little competition among Friends or Followers. The Apps use rewards like Emoji Trophies for completing certain tasks, such as take 1000 snaps using your front facing camera. As an adult reading this, if we were to offer you an Emoji and ask you to go and take a thousand pictures of yourself, undoubtedly you would say “ Are you ****ing kidding me or what?”. Yet our kids are happily doing this, all the while oblivious to the level of manipulation actually taking place.
If a child has taken one thousand pictures of themselves and over time been introduced to adding a variety of filters to alter their image in order to improve it, will the child still be satisfied with themselves when looking at an unfiltered normal regular photo. over time will the App influence their perception to the extent of now needing to add a Beauty Filter to their image, perhaps as a result of a preference now for wider eyes, smoother skin or fuller lips? Even the suggestion that a child or teen needs to make use a Beauty Filter, immediately gives the suggestion that there is something wrong with their image.
Adults have not grown up with this technology, we can’t even imagine what it is like to live in a world, where you are consistantly encouraged to alter your own image in order to make it conform to the current perception of beauty. What gives us further cause for concern, is the way Apps then encourage users to share their altered image of themselves with others. Now the user is seeking validation and feedback of an online world, where the harsh and frequent horrific judgement and comments can cause devastation to an individual’s self-esteem and concept of self-worth.
The number of young girls and boys reporting dissatisfaction with their very perception of themselves continues to increase, along with the numbers suffering from self-esteem issues, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, self-harm and eating disorders. The figures being reported are higher than they have ever been before. Beauty Apps, and Apps which are using psychology and gamification to condition a user to habitually alter and share their own image, will eventually create an altered idea of what the perception of beauty is.
Incredibly, when you listen to those who make millions and profit from selling their image as the one to aspire to, the Jenner/Kardashian media monster machine, even these people, who at this point must be made of more plastic than Joan Rivers, say they are not happy with their image. They are still complain constantly about what they are not happy with about themselves to a very vulnerable audience. Children are learning the negative lesson of the importance of astetics rather than ability, tallent or skill.
No child, male or female, can ever aspire to the perception of beauty held by people who no longer even look like themselves, or images which have been altered to unrealistic proportions. Children are unique, that is where their beauty lies, in their uniqueness. Who wants to live in a world with 3.2 billion internet users, who all look like Kardashian or Jenner replicates. For parents it is really important to pay attention to the image your child creates of themselves online. Be mindful of the harm caused to a child, who becomes unhappy with their own perception of their identity. All the filters and AI in the world will never improve who a person is on the inside, however it does have very powerful ability to destroy them.