In late 2013, the word “selfie” won “Word of the Year” – a somewhat dubious award given out annually by the Oxford English Dictionary.
The selfie – at least as it is recognized today – is also totally dependent on photography.
In other words, no camera, no selfie.
Interestingly, a “selfie friendly” camera has only been available to the masses (i.e. people like me with no photographic talent) since 2010, when Apple released the iPhone 4 with its turnaround front-facing camera feature.
Yet, just a few short years later, opinions about selfies are so polarized that, on any given day, we have an entire country scrabbling for founder’s rights, journalists claiming selfies are already on their way out in pop culture, and a French photographer named JR installing his 4,000 portrait tribute to selfies in none other than Paris’ Pantheon.
“French photographer JR thinks selfies can change the world,” a Time magazine headline proclaims.
At first the photographer (who sticks to his initials and won’t reveal any personal details beyond his French nationality) participated as bio-photographer in capturing people’s “selfie” images … a move which technically violates the spirit of what selfies are all about.
However, once he received TED funding ($100,000 worth), his role shifted firmly into one of documenting independently-snapped selfies voluntarily uploaded to his website.
JR believes selfies help us connect face to face and empathize with one another in a world that feels increasingly wide and impersonal.
On that note, in the spirit of writing a balanced post (gotta love being a writer) I did a little online sleuthing using the term “selfie.”
Results were so riveting I promptly forgot I was even writing an article….these headlines really appeared right on the first page of search results:
“Selfies are Good for Girls”
“Sweetie, No One Likes Selfies”
“Selfies at Funerals”
“Dad Posts Video of Daughter Taking Selfies”
“Tragic Selfies Taken Moments Before Disaster”
The one and only objective conclusion I can draw from this is – as usual – everyone has an opinion.
So instead, I will share my very un-objective personal take on selfies.
Selfies are a way for people to explore and express themselves. If we didn’t have selfies (i.e. if the iPhone 4 had never been invented) we would be using something else to explore and express ourselves.
Selfies – like anything and everything else under the sun – can be as dangerous and damaging or as healing and restorative (or anywhere in between) as we make them out to be.
And every time any one of us – you, me, your peers, my peers – says or writes anything about our opinion of selfies themselves, what we share has the potential to influence which way that pendulum swings.
Speaking of writing to influence a swinging pendulum….personally, I don’t believe selfies are a symptom of personal narcissism or ill-will any more than I believe selfies are a mark of the depth of compassion we bear towards one another.
They are just selfies – and perhaps they are also the quick digital equivalent of the great ponderous tomes of historical literature of ages past.
“Journalism in a hurry,” we might call it, as we move through our days snapping and capturing and cataloguing this moment in time and then the next and then the next, only later stopping to piece all of those moments together to see if any of it makes any sense (hoping all the while that it will).
I don’t actually take many selfies.
Every so often I’ll snap a selfie of my hair (usually when I’ve just changed its color for the zillionth time), and sometimes I like to take selfies with my parrot (who loves the camera like no being I’ve ever seen) or my tortoise (who feels exactly the opposite).
And maybe, after 20 years struggling to recover from an eating disorder, I’m just not that interested in staring at static moment-in-time images of myself as a means towards self discovery.
Or it could be I’m subtly protective of my recovery by ensuring I won’t be too tempted to stare at – and document – myself in the ways of disorders past.
I don’t know.
But I do know that for me, what I “see” in the mirror, the camera, or elsewhere is as much about what I sense and feel and believe as it is about any data my physical eyes may take in, and snapping (or viewing) selfies won’t change that.
But I also have no problem with others using selfies as a way to get to know themselves and others.
As my mentor often says, “It is what it is – and it will be what it will be.”
Words to live by.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a “take” on selfies? Do you ever take selfies? If you walked into the Pantheon and saw 4,000 selfies, how do you think you would feel? Would you ever consider participating in such a project?