- Illustrations by Mr Jean Jullien | Words by Mr Dan Davies
I was a relative latecomer to Instagram but have embraced it with enthusiasm; this despite getting routinely teased about my output being, in effect, a photographic blog of my daughter, who has just turned two.
In my defence, I argue that my following on Instagram is a tiny fraction of what it is on Twitter (which, in itself, is nothing for Kim Kardashian to worry about) and posting photos is an easy way to ensure friends and far-flung relatives can keep abreast of her development. Plus, she's undeniably cute and as a doting father I'm not ashamed to share this fact. So much so that I have been known to take the occasional "selfie" of us together.
"Selfie", as you will doubtless have heard, was recently named word of the year for 2013 by Oxford Dictionaries. The practice of standing in a public place or in front of a mirror, arm outstretched awkwardly (or in my case, wrestling a want-away toddler like a small alligator), has become so ubiquitous that usage of the word increased by 17,000% in the 12 months leading up to October last year. But what does this fad say about humanity, what does it say about men, and, most importantly in this age of rampant narcissism, what does it say about me?
Some experts argue the selfie is emblematic of the need to record, edit and share having overcome our willingness to experience and reflect. Others insist it indicates an over-arching desire to control how we want the world to see us. Then there are those who believe the selfie is a natural extension to the all-encompassing cult of celebrity, being photographed as a validation of status. In his article in The New York Times, the actor and "selfie king" Mr James Franco (@JamesFrancoTV) put it more succinctly: "Attention is power".
Illness might be a more appropriate term. Neuroscientists have known for some time that our obsession with checking emails derives from primitive human instincts - and Instagram thrives on much the same addictive behaviour. We're searchers by nature and each time we find a bit of information - an incoming message or the orange notification that someone has liked one of our pictures - we are rewarded with a tiny squirt of dopamine, the pleasure-producing chemical in our brains.
What this means is our world of constant connection - and yes, that includes the compulsion to see how many people have liked the picture of you showing off your new car or gym-ripped physique - is turning you into a lab rat. I know because I feel the dopamine pulsing through my body every time someone likes a picture of my daughter.
Evidence of humanity's descent into attention-deficit chaos might be expected from the Instagram accounts of Hollywood stars, or indeed pop idols, reality TV wannabes and underwear models (some of which are really rather good), but the surge in popularity of selfies among "ordinary men" is a more interesting phenomenon.
A recent survey reported that British males are twice as likely to take selfies as women, suggesting that along with make-up, the pressures of body image and the fastidious maintenance of eyebrows, we can now celebrate the absorption into our culture of the impulse to pout in front of the camera. What's more, research reveals that before posting pictures of themselves men are more likely to edit them to make them look better. So we can add vanity to the list, too.
It is my experience of being a man that we are not predisposed to enjoying the good fortune of our fellow men, especially when it is advertised to us through our devices. Scroll through your Instagram feed and alight on a perfectly framed shot of a friend's suntanned feet protruding from the bottom of a sun-lounger, the aquamarine of the Indian Ocean twinkling in the background. Stop and peruse selfies that take in the view from an executive box at the biggest sporting event in town, from the top of a mountain after a particularly arduous bike ride or with an arm casually slung around the waist of a famous woman. I defy you not to think: "Bastard" or "Show-off". Such images - now known as "braggies" - make us jealous, resentful and feel bad about ourselves.
Men, of course, are naturally competitive but self-admiration and braggadocio are to be guarded against. It is therefore time to stop the slide and reclaim the high ground from the mirror-seekers and the goldfish-minded. We should return to taking and sharing funny photos, pictures of stunning landscapes, buildings or our shoes, and, when they let us, of our children (without, from this point on, fathers like me pulling them into the frame).
But what if you're still feeling the urge to lift one arm, look into the lens and hope it doesn't catch your bald patch? I urge you to follow the example of one man who has captured the essence of the male selfie: Mr Benny Winfield Jr, aka @mrpimpgoodgame. His modus operandi and 125,000-plus followers should be a lesson to us all.