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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Selfie - Signpost to the End of Time or What?

Even my dog's doing selfies!
Brendan Greely wrote this piece on Bloomberg the other day, blaming the rise of the "selfie" and rampant narcissism on capitalists who make money exploiting the all-to-human absorption in ourselves.

I disagree with Mr. Greeley, however. I don't think it's a case of capitalists creating narcissism, but rather a case of capitalism responding to rampant narcissism with products that narcissists like. Greely seizes upon the cell phone camera and the ease with which we can take pictures of ourselves as causative for a rise in self-absorption in society.  This is typical behaviorist, progressive socialist thinking.  We rush to blame our flaws on some external influence that made us this way. And while, I will admit that external factors may have a profound influence upon our characters, choice is, I believe, the deciding element in any societal shift.

Besides, I don't think all self-portraiture is narcissism. If you don't put up some kind of picture of yourself, it works out like those old pen pal letters where you communicate for years with someone that you wouldn't recognize on the street because they never sent you a picture. A picture of yourself is not entirely about you.

People who communicate with you want to know what you look like now. They even like older pictures of you, so they can jog their memories and know which one of their classmates was you. Sure we may have less than honorable intentions when we post pictures of ourselves when we were 23 and svelte and many people do. Okay, that can be a bit dishonest if you're trying to make people believe you're a 23 year old hottie when you're really a 58 year old grandmaw. But at the same time there are a whole lot of us who do post gritty, realistic self-portraits as our Facebook avatars, updating them as we age. People want to see faces when they are talking to someone, even if it's on Facebook Chat or Twitter.

Oddly enough, people tend to get more "likes" and comments on a new self-portrait/avatar change than they do on almost anything else they post on Facebook.  Why? Because people want to see your face - your real face. It makes you more alive. People want to know you've gone native since you moved to Washington State and grew back your hair to hippie length and it's gone all white and curly.  Your face tells your friends a lot about yourself.

Do companies make money on our obsession with self-portraiture. Yes, of course they do. Is that a bad thing?  Not really. We need stuff. Advertisers want to sell us stuff. Why not make it easier?  So let them make money. We get value for our pageviews in that we get to keep up with friends.

One positive outcome may be improving the lot of retired men. Women have always tended to outlive men because they are better networkers than men, who have long tended to become isolated once they retire from work. Technology has given men a tool to not only maintain their connection with their friends, but also to restore old lost connections as well.

Thanks to Facebook's "narcissism business", I've reconnected to dozens of old friends from my youth. I've reconnected with loved ones long lost and follow the careers of children I taught in school 30-40 years ago. I can trade pictures in an instant with my kids and one day, I hope, with my grand-kids and great grand-kids.

It's not the fault of technology, greedy capitalists or godless communism that so much self-absorption and self-centeredness exists in the world. We've always had that going. These kinds of people would have been chipping sexy selfies out of marble thousands of years ago if they'd had the talent and the marble to do it. What's nice about Facebook is the more egregious narcissists in the group leave mostly digital pictures of themselves rather than marble busts littering the place. Bits and bytes, thank God, are very simple to erase. Don't blame technology, though. Technology is but a tool.

"The fault, dear Brutus," as Shakespeare put it, "is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

© 2013 by Tom King


Greenescape said...

Yes, but what if the "selfie" fad was created by a brilliant NSA agent to make sure they had recent photos of everyone? ;)

Tom King said...

I've heard that one. I think they just use Facebook anyway - just glom onto it with facial recognition software. We even tag our faces and those of our known associates in pictures we post with links to their Facebook pages.

How convenient.