There once was a time not too long ago when taking pictures of yourself could only mean that you didn’t have anyone in your life to take your picture for you.
Nobody took selfies, not even with Polaroid cameras. To do so would admit to the world that you were either a pathetic, lonely loser, or someone who was extremely egotistical. A self-taken picture was sad and embarrassing, like a teen-aged boy caught playing alone with a football and making his own crowd noise in the backyard.
Times have changed.
Anyone with a smartphone knows that selfies are now an accepted, and frequent, form of social expression. Even the President takes them. If you missed the BuzzFeed video from a week ago of the Commander-in-Chief mugging around with a Selfie Stick, here it is.
Obama took a lot of flack for it, just as he does for everything else. I feel for the guy, but I have to admit that there’s something embarrassing about the Most Powerful Man in the World, the one responsible for our foreign policy and all our troops oversees, staring self-consciously and making faces at his phone like an eighth-grader. The message of the video seems to be, “Hey, the President is a regular guy, just like you.” That is not a sentiment that fills me with a rush of confidence.
It would be easy for me to plant a flag in the ground and say, “Hey, we weren’t taking pictures of ourselves back in the 1980s and 90s.” The reality is that we probably would have been if the technology were around to make it so easy to do. Selfies are not making us more narcissistic. We have always been narcissistic. Selfies just make our narcissism more obvious to the outside world. Maybe that is a form of public service.
I don’t take selfies very often. One reason is that I have short arms, and I only learned about the existence of the Selfie Stick about a week ago. Another reason is I don’t think very many people are interested in viewing self-generated photos of me. A third reason is plain old sheepishness: a selfie posted on Facebook or Twitter seems squeamishly revealing, like inviting someone I don’t know very well to come over to my house and watch me make faces in the bathroom mirror.
I should just get over myself. The selfie is here to stay. Neil Patrick Harris is already bragging about how his selfie at the upcoming Oscars is going to top Ellen’s selfie from last year’s Oscars! What can you say? People love it! We selfie, therefore we are, or however that old saying goes.
In a way, selfies may be the most honest form of expression, and may reveal more about ourselves than we intend. I’m going to try to remember that the next time I take a photo of my feet in front of a swimming pool.