Sunday, August 23, 2015

Are We Are Selfies? What Selfies Say About Our Culture (Nothing)

Selfies strike some weird chord with right wing lunatics and journalists. They are absolutely sure that they are evidence of, well, whatever they think is wrong with whoever they think is the sign that Rome is about to fall. Narcissism is the thread that ties it together, but what could be more narcissistic than writing op-ed columns telling people what to make of their world?

The latest comes from Molly Haskell in the Washington Post. The op-ed, called "No more selfies, I promise (if you’ll do the same)," is about how selfies make her feel:
I just received an e-mail, photographs attached, from a friend in Maine, who with another friend of mine is undoubtedly having a great time. I don’t know for sure because I didn’t open the attachment. I didn’t need to. Because it is a selfie, it goes without saying that it does not picture my friends frowning or frustrated by bad weather or not getting along. Instead, there will be bright smiles on their side and resentment on mine. I have just realized why I dislike selfies. There is a huge gap between what the sender intends (to include you in the fun) and the receiver receives (excluded from the fun).
The next and last sentence should be, "I realized that it is silly for me to resent that my friend is having fun, so I decided to be happy for them and move on to more productive things." Instead, we get this: 
You are sitting at the computer or on the bus with your iPhone, editing out promotional e-mail from and Library of America and TCM and West Elm and eBay, or opinion nuggets from Bloomberg, when along comes this intrusively vivid reminder of what you are missing and can’t even buy. You may not be on the bus; you may even be in a fabulous place such as Rome or Wimbledon, having a great time . But the moment you open the picture you are immediately assailed by an acute sense of something missing in your life. This is ignoble and feels terrible. Do other people experience this, and if so, how can I have done this to them? The picture I sent from outside a revival theater on Paris’s Left Bank! Or the view from my terrace of the ocean at sunset!
She goes on to say:
this form of electronic epistle is doomed by its very nature to erode communication and therefore friendship. The rarely resisted impulse to send our latest thrill-filled moment reveals the narcissist in all of us, the failure of empathy, the inability to remember our own feelings of resentment when the time comes for us to unleash an update on the world.
A tad overblown, I'd say. Selfies are not eroding communications and definitely not friendship. With real friends, we spend time together in the physical world and we communicate just fine. Sometimes we take pictures of ourselves and send them to other friends or post them on facebook. Some of those people say, "how nice" or "I'd like to see them again sometime soon" or "that looks like fun, maybe I'll go there someday." I guess some, like this writer, say, "I hate that they are having fun, and I hate them for rubbing it in." She is worried about a failure of empathy purely on the part of the sender,  not her own inability to feel others' happiness. I should note, too, that I would love to write op-eds in the Post, so why is she rubbing it in that she gets to write this when she knows how much others would like to? What a selfish thing to do!

She concludes by saying that it is okay if friends send pictures of their grandchildren reaching milestones or having a good time because "I don’t feel I’m missing anything." This is the person who thinks her selfie-snapping friends lack empathy.

I've tried not to write that articles about selfies reveal more about the writers than the people snapping selfies, but it's just too true to leave out. I imagine some terrible people are weaponizing their selfies to make others feel bad, but they were terrible before selfies came along and will be terrible when something new comes along. But for almost everyone, selfies are just pictures we take because we all have cameras with us wherever we go, and nothing more.

Now, the Fixx:

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