A sense of selfie

Be yourself, but always be your better self.” – Karl G. Maeser

The Oxford Dictionary traces the first use of the word “selfie” back to 2002. By 2013 not only did they add it to the dictionary but made it their word of the year.

In a recent post blogger Matt Walsh posted an article on The Blaze web site titled “The World Would Be a Better Place If We All Stopped Taking Pictures of Ourselves.” In it he suggests that we’ve all become narcissists concerned with our own vanity and we miss out actually experiencing life and its beauty in lieu of taking a selfie.

A lot of what Walsh says rings true. Too often we’ve seen selfies of dubious interest posted on social media. Too many times they’re of innocuous or inappropriate places and/or events. How many times do we really need to see someone sitting on their couch or in a bathroom? Do we really need to see every meal or new pair of shoes.

A few weeks ago Lima, Ohio police issued a warrant for 45-year-old Donald “Chip” Pugh for failing to appear in court on a misdemeanor drunk driving charge. Apparently Pugh, unhappy with the mug shot that the police posted of him, took a selfie and sent it to the police (he was arrested near Pensacola, Florida nearly a week later).

Too many celebrities and politicians have been caught up and shamed in “sexting” or nude photo scandals.

While selfies have become synonymous with the Millennial generation the truth is that it runs across almost all generational lines. I’ve seen them taken by young and old alike.

Perhaps it’s a modern equivalent of navel-gazing, an inner exploration to know oneself a little better. But the difference is that it goes beyond self-contemplation when the photos are shared with everyone.

Perhaps the reason it hasn’t happened earlier is that we older folk didn’t have the technology that makes it so easy today. In the past to take a selfie you had to put a camera on a timer and place it on a tripod or give it to a stranger and asked them to take the picture for you (if you gave your camera to someone else could you still call it a “selfie?”).

Some people did do the outstretched-arm technique of today but the cameras back then were heavy and hard to hold. Also you couldn’t see what you taking like you can with today’s cellphone cameras. Focusing and aiming the camera was a hit-and-miss affair.

We take pictures of beautiful sunsets, majestic, snow-capped peaks and thunderous ocean waves crashing on the beaches all with our smiling faces popping up in a corner of those photos. I understand the desire to document the events of our lives and the places we go. Wouldn’t it be better to experience what is happening and just to turn the camera around and snap a shot of what’s in front us?

Now, I’m the last one to discourage people from taking pictures and I like seeing pictures from family and friends’ travels and milestone events. I think the problem comes from too many selfies in such situations. A few are fine but there comes a time where it crosses into self-absorption and self-indulgence. There are too many shots of people at the dinner table, driving in their cars or at their desk at work doing nothing. Maybe all that’s needed is a little self-editing.

Unlike Walsh I don’t think that we should ban all selfies, but I believe that there’s a time and place for everything. Photographs are a way to preserve memories and there are special events in our lives that we want to record or posterity. Taking selifes with friends and families before and after ceremonies and celebrations are completely appropriate. Taking them during those events, not so much.

Whatever you think of sefies they are here to stay. The cameras we use today are simple to use and the ability to post the pictures to social media is even easier. And I have been guilty as any other selfie offender. But perhaps we can show a little restraint, turn the camera around every once in awhile, and capture the experiences and memories around us.


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