In a day and age where we are inventing and creating so many new things, our human vocabulary is also expanding. Ringtone, tweet, phablet, live-stream, all words that were created because of new technology. Sometimes a word becomes so popular it’s used to describe all things that are similar, such as Kleenex (instead of tissue) or Q-Tip (instead of cotton swab.) I fear another word that modern living has invented has become a blanket statement for something too wide ranging an area to cover: The Selfie.
Since the beginning of time the human race has struggled with the ultimate question: how can I see what I look like? For a time there were but mirrors and reflections, which were “of the moment” chances to check yourself out. If you paid a good price you could commission a painting, which was a reminder of the way someone thought you looked. Then came the camera, which became smaller and more powerful with each generation, to the point where you could stick one pretty much anywhere, including your phone. It is at this time that combined with social media, the Selfie took off.
Recently finding myself bored and with access to a camera, I decided to take a picture of myself. If you peruse my collections of photographs online you may notice that most of the pictures don’t have me in them, as I’m “that guy” at a party or event of excitement. I’m the one who needs to be reminded to “enjoy the moment” and put the camera down every once in a while, so there aren’t quite as many pictures of me out there. So I took a picture:
Little did I know that I had started a chain reaction that would end with the following brain bug picking away inside me: What is a Selfie?
After I had shot and edited the picture I decided to throw it up on my Instagram account and use it as my profile picture for Twitter as well. After posting it online with the title “Self Portrait” I got a comment:
The way I reacted surprised me, because I was immediately filled with a conviction of disagreement and a slight remorseful revulsion to have this considered a Selfie. This? It’s a picture of me and nothing else. So I explained my position:
Does that make sense? To me, a Selfie is when something else that’s picture worthy is going on around you, and you thumbtack yourself in the middle of the frame to say “I was here.” Or you’ve changed your appearance in some way that differs from your regular look when traversing the planet (see Halloween, fancy dinners, post mud-wrestling.) When I think the word Selfie, I think of spitting the word out while someone screams “LOOK AT ME” with the world going on around them.
Another way to tell if a picture is a Selfie or not involves the raising of fingers, posing of the face or the arising of Duck Face in the shot. If you’ve arranged your face in a manner which may not be it’s normal appearance to the world, you may be taking a Selfie. Anyone with more than four Duck Face pictures on display should have to walk around like that in “real” life. Sadly, some of them do.
Finally, and most importantly, the final criteria for me is where it is happening. The Tumblr Selfies at Funerals doesn’t exist because these people are in touch with what’s appropriate in life (or apparently death.) If there’s a huge event happening in the background, and you want to show everyone that you were there while it was happening, that to me is a Selfie moment. And it can happen to the best of us…
Combining those three factors, event, pose and location, are what defines a Selfie to me. Frankly, I look at Selfie as kind of a dirty word, which is why I probably reacted the way I did when my head shot was described in that way. It was a blanket word that I didn’t want to get lumped into. The debate continued:
As I read through the comments I thought maybe there’s a fourth category that could be checked off: Where you display it. We are the generation of over-sharing, and if I’m posting a picture of myself in public forum(s), that’s essentially saying “look at me, look at ME!” isn’t it? If you post something to Tumblr or Facebook or Twitter or WordPress or Instagram or Imgur or Flickr, are you not looking for attention? So is that a defining quality of a Selfie? In which case, maybe what I’d taken did fit the bill.
Regardless as to where you fall on the Selfie scale, I’m glad this passing moment of boredom opened up a point of conversation and debate. It’s a little thing, but the more we can figure out the way the world around us sees us, the closer we are to surviving whatever this thing called life is. It also helps us decide what we want to share, and what we want for ourselves.
(Publishes post, refreshes Stats and Comments pages every five minutes…)