NEW YORK – When I was growing up, everyone I knew hated getting their picture taken. Whenever someone would barge in with a camcorder propped on their shoulder or a camera in their hands, people would run for cover. And who liked picture day at school? No one.
We used pictures to document memories – Christmas, family vacations – to have saved forever images of our children, our parents when they were young, our loved ones who’ve passed on. We didn’t take pictures of ourselves driving, in the mirror of our dirty bathrooms, in a new outfit posing in our just as messy bedrooms.
The selfie is a scourge, a cultural phenomenon that should embarrass us as human beings and that I hope fades when our young people grow up.
The phenomenon seems to be part of a general celebration of the average. Which is actually a good thing. These days, if you can’t get a record deal you just record yourself singing in your living room and you could become a YouTube sensation. People are interested in other people, and indeed relate much more to people who are like them and not multi-millionaire celebrities.
But I still wish selfies would be saved for events more significant than eating breakfast: A new face tattoo, 150-pound weight loss, or perhaps your victorious moment when you realize you’ve cured cancer. All worthy of a selfie.
I agree with those darn experts who say young people take selfies because they want to be famous. Decades of zealous celebrity-watching has led a generation to believe that fame is the greatest achievement. And if you’re a hottie, even better.
But after all these people stare into their smart phone cameras with the famous pouty-lipped duck face – which I just learned is a thing – do they look at anything else? Like the news? “Two hundred girls were abducted in Nigeria? Whatever dude, look at the picture of me in my new Burger King uniform!”
I suppose I could be more optimistic and view the selfie and other social media phenomena as how people today connect with each other. And connection is a good thing – everything is out in the open, people are learning about each other, hopefully growing wiser and more worldly.
And people eat this stuff up. We’re sharing ourselves with each other, finding community in our mutual weirdness, which is also a good thing. Though I often pine for the days when people played bridge by lamplight while others read Austen and Dickens, I don’t really think living in the dark about the world and the people in it is beneficial to humanity.
Such is life: Every positive thing has a negative side. The interconnectedness of the modern world spawned selfies. I guess we’ll have to deal with it.
The greater problem is self-obsession. The dude who documents his bicep growth and the girl who takes a mirror photo of her butt probably aren’t volunteering at the food pantry.
As for my old self, I’ve taken probably two selfies in my lifetime, both before the word was invented. Maybe I should start more actively practicing the selfie – just in case I forget what I look like. Maybe that’s all it boils down to – an entire generation forgetting their own faces. Short-term memory isn’t what it used to be after all.
Shelley Mae Hazen