I was driving down the street today. The weather was unseasonably warm but humid and basically gross. As I approached the corner I saw a woman on the sidewalk, waiting at a bus stop, old her phone over her head so she could stare into it, make a strange face and then put the phone down. She was taking a selfie at a bus stop.
I hate selfies, especially of me. I hate most pictures of me but selfies more than that. They smack of narcissism, a lack of compositional subtlety and narcissism. I also don't like how I look.
I know that selfies aren't a new idea. Artists have been drawing self portraits for a while now, and some of the early photos were of the photographer (I had a student write a paper on this a couple of years ago). And yes, I once, way back in the days of 35mm film cameras, aimed at myself and opened the shutter. The resultant picture of the top third of my face was not one I kept for posterity. But when an artist or an experimental photographer took an image of himself he was trying to say something. He had a significant point to make -- his art or picture was a window into something more significant that simple image. The teen ager who takes 14 pictures while at the water fountain in the library has nothing to say with those pictures. They don't catalogue and important moment or experience. They are not special expressions of self because the scarcity principle no longer applies. Back when a photo took time and money, or a drawing was rife with impression (or at least a show of skill) the rare self-image gave unique insight. These pictures are no longer unusual so we lack any adjustment time which would allow the next picture to provide something new or different to craft a deeper appreciation.
What makes standing at a bus stop important enough to be memorialized in a photo? Even more so, what makes it so special that it needs to be shared. Have we no private moments that can be held in a personal and not communal memory? And then people make "stories" out of a series of pictures, as if my sending you my picture isn't good enough -- I have to write the captions so that you have a full idea of my experience of eating grilled cheese. We are living vicariously, through the mundane experiences of others that are imbued with sacredness by the fact that they belong to someone else. And worse than that, we are living through other people's experiencing our experiences. I want him/her to see me at the bus stop and I need the feedback: what was it like to see me at a bus stop? My vicariousness needs a vicariousness.
So if we are so hell bent on having others stretch their voyeuristic muscles and see us when we brush our teeth, why do we get surprised that people share inappropriate pictures? Is it really that much more of an extreme? And when those pictures are then passed around, or when people hack into phones and take "private" pictures can we really be shocked? Haven't we cultivated this culture of all-access by sacrificing our private identities on the altar of virality?
We don't make stupid duck faces because our college chums want to see us like that. We make faces which accentuate our celebrity or try to emulate what we imagine important people do in pictures. Then we get indignant when others comment, manipulate or otherwise refuse to honor us through our pictures. We put our egos out there to be stroked and get upset when someone kicks them instead of loving them.
The next time you are shopping and decide to share with all your friends every stop you take in the mall, consider how you are devaluing your own uniqueness, how you are flooding the market with the product that is your identity and how you are making a live conversation with you, an actual interaction, superfluous.