"None are so empty as those who are full of themselves."
--- Benjamin Whichcote
Smile, click click click…OK, now turn your head, catch the light, duck face and SMILE. It's another selfie session, at a restaurant, a party, a museum or just at a stop light. The makings of the next post on Insta or story on Snapchat are all around us. The selfie trend is hot and heavy, but not everyone thinks it's all that. There are articles, posts, and even whole websites that are either dedicated to getting the perfect happy snap selfie or ranting about how the trend is ruining the youth of today and turning them into megalomaniacs.
Those who take them are essentially curating their lives, to show themselves in the best possible way. Hair has to be perfect, background framed just so, and then, even if it's a great shot and looks beautiful, there are editing tools. There are dozens of apps available for smartphones that will whiten your teeth, remove bags from your eyes, and even slim down any parts that don't pass social media muster. But seriously, has it gone too far? Is the selfie an indication of a generation that is superficial and self-absorbed, or is it just some passing fancy with the Gen Z crowd? Oh, for the record, Gen Z is the generation that came after the Millennials. Born between 1995 and now, Gen Z'ers are taking over. They rule retail, they own social media, and they are the first age group to grow up in an entirely digital environment. They have never known a world without cell phones, the Internet, and hashtags.
I recently had to replace my beloved iPhone, and in the process of moving all the data off the old phone so it could be wiped, I realized there were a ton of snapshots of me on the phone. Smiling, not smiling, outside, inside, in the car, walking the dog. No lie, it was embarrassing. Now, not all of them were posted on social media, because that would be truly bizarre, but with digital pictures, the benefit is that you can take 147 pictures to get just the right look and then trash the rest like they never happened. That was my plan; just keep snapping until there was one picture that didn't make me look like someone tried to inflate my face with helium. Still, the reject snapshots were sitting in the trash bin of my phone, mocking me.
Essentially, we are editing our own lives, putting out only those moments that are crafted to perfection. Is it screwing us up somehow? Are we teaching our kids that they should only reveal moments of their lives that are carefully staged? Are we creating a culture of self-absorption? Well, it's probably not quite that dire.
Along with the lost selfies on my phone, there were snapshots of my friends and me. We are toasting with a glass of wine on a girl's night, laughing at the beach, photobombing each other with goofy faces. If this trend of selfies wasn't such a thing, would we think to capture some of these moments? In all of my old family photos from growing up, all of them are posed. Mostly my brother and I, either in pajamas on Christmas morning or standing on the front lawn, in itchy church clothes, with plastic Easter baskets. There are no bent and yellowed photos of my father flipping pancakes on Christmas morning. None of the cracked and weathered Polaroids show my brother and I flying down the hill on our bikes, or playing "Rock band" with plastic guitars. The camera came out on special occasions back then; now, with almost every phone having a camera, every event can be a photo op.
Honestly, I think selfies are a bit of fun. Within reason. No snaps of solemn places, like the Holocaust memorial sites, the Vietnam Wall, or Ground Zero. Places that honor those lost to wars or terrible tragedies are not about you and your duck face. If you're someplace where someone's name is carved in stone because they made the ultimate sacrifice, put the damn phone down and pay attention. Also, don't get so absorbed in your photo shoot that you miss the event you were trying to document; life is best lived in the moment, not behind a lens. Maybe our cell phones get in the way sometimes, but they're always at the ready and can capture tiny moments in time that might otherwise slip by unnoticed. So, smile. Make a goofy face, train the dog to photobomb your kids, and get that happy snap for posterity. Someday, maybe years from now, you'll come across a fun photo and smile all over again.