Do you remember the expression “the Me Generation”? Back in the 1970s, among the protesters and afros, was a culture of narcissism, when self-help programs reached a new peak and introspection went so far into the boring nuances of personality that the expression “navel-gazing” was the best one to describe it. People were fascinated by themselves.
Now it’s 2015, and we have a new tool to fuel our love of ourselves: the selfie. Everyone’s phone has a camera that can be flipped with the press of a button so we can see ourselves in it as we snap away, and if that isn’t enough for you, you can buy a selfie stick to make that shot even better. This is an alternate take on navel-gazing, which at least required some sort of self-analysis, however mundane. While the camera was invented to give us an observational eye into the world around us, the selfie does the opposite, turning the spotlight on ourselves but dropping the analysis by the wayside. “It’s me!” is enough.
Okay, let’s put on the brakes. Selfies can be a lot of fun, and I don’t mean to condemn them entirely. Sometimes they’re about showing that you’re in an unusual and wonderful place, or that you’re with someone special. My 95-year-old grandmother just took her very first selfie, and I love it. “Guess who,” she wrote in her text to my dad.
See? I can be pro-selfie, even if I am a little partial to ones featuring my grandmother.
But there’s a cultural phenomenon here, and it has us taking photos and videos of everything we do. Not only is it getting weirder, it’s getting dangerous.
We’ll get to the dangerous part in a minute.
A few years ago, a dad did a fascinating project with his two children. He filmed each of his children once a week, against the same backdrop, every week. When his daughter was 12 and his son was 9, he put the footage together and turned it into these two videos, where you can see his children turn from babies into people. Here’s his son:
The footage ended up on CNN and The Tonight Show (Jay Leno era) and got a lot of attention, but he started it as a way to keep his memories of his rapidly changing children intact. Then it became an additional way to bond with his kids, a weekly check-in just between them, where he had them talk about what made them happy or sad and what they were thinking about.
This dad documented his kids because he was fascinated by them. Now here’s the sad evolution: A grown man who documented himself.
It doesn’t say anything about who he is as a person, but it speaks volumes about shirts and eyeglasses.
But despite his self-love, he was at least trying to do something creative. The selfie-takers aren’t always so innovative: My husband was getting a coffee one day, and the woman in front of him took NINE selfies while she was standing there in front of him. In line. At Starbucks.
What’s worse than boring? Depressing. This story about a promposal gone wrong went viral, and I just kept wondering as I read about it why on earth these people were filming themselves in the car. Then after they recorded this dismal excursion, they posted it, so we could feel just as uncomfortable as they do. And people ate it up; I must have seen it in my Facebook feed at least five times the day it hit.
Here’s the whole sad video.
At least they had the camera propped up somewhere, right? Unfortunately, not everyone is taking the same precautions. People are now taking pictures of themselves while driving, because driving and texting isn’t quite dangerous enough.
It’s a global phenomenon. Last year, a driver in Iran took her eyes off the road to stare into the camera, and her hands off the wheel to make an emotional gesture, and crashed. And then uploaded the video.
People are getting into accidents when they’re taking selfies or when they’re uploading them, and it’s scary.
I vote for turning the cameras back around. The occasional selfie is fun, but there’s something beautiful about seeing the world through someone’s eyes as they use a camera, or even seeing yourself through the eyes of another.
It’s safer, too.