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Man Taking a Selfie
Thu, July 9, 2015
The Selfie: It’s Not Just a Photograph
We have become a society…
  • Of an email instead of a letter.
  • Of a text instead of a phone call.
  • Of a turning of the head the other way instead of a “hi” and a smile square on.
  • Of “I don’t need anybody” instead of “I need you”.
  • Of disconnect instead of connect.
  • Of “me” instead of “you and me”. 
The selfie is not just a photograph and it’s not just a trend. The selfie has become a movement that might be titled “It’s All About Me”. One might say that it is the newest trend of the month. I say “trend” of the month because like most trends, give the selfie a little time and it will lose its fascination, its glamour, its mystery only to be replaced with yet another trend as fascinating and unique as the last.
 
Unfortunately this phenomena is having a much larger impact on society than was anticipated when people took photographs of themselves. I don’t think that taking a photograph of oneself is just a passing fancy.  Years ago one might call a picture taken by the individual of themselves a self-portrait. The selfie today is more of the expression of one’s opinion of themselves (a distorted love of self) to society.
 
The definition of selfie is “A self-portrait photograph or group photograph featuring the photographer, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone.” Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, or MySpace and are usually flattering and casual.  According to Time magazine the selfie – one of today’s top ten buzz words – is meant to present a flattering image of the person with the intent of posting and getting positive self-centered comments. It is used to get the highest number of likes as if in competition with others. It belies the intent of Facebook and the like – to connect with others.
 
In September, 2014 ABC sponsored a television show called  “Selfie”.  A romantic comedy, it was actually a critique of perceived narcissism in social media. As I look at the society’s response to the selfie and the like, that critique was not of a perception but commentary of a harsh reality.  “If it’s not about me – all about me, I don’t want to be bothered.”
 
Studies exploring the selfie and its impact on the individuals using selfies indicate that the selfie is no longer just a trend or a movement but has become a contributing factor to narcissism, mental illness, addiction, attention seeking behavior, and self indulgence.
 
Narcissism is the excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearances. “Vanity”, “self-love”, “self admiration”, and “self absorption” are words that serve as synonyms of narcissism. 

It is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egoistic admiration of self. Narcissists are totally absorbed in themselves. They lack empathy for other people and are lacking in humility. They have very little emotional insight and have great difficulty in extending themselves or reaching out to others.
 
The selfie along with other components of today’s social media have as their theme “It’s all about me. You need to adore me.”  The social environment of the ‘60s had as its theme “It’s about us. We need to love one another.” 
 
While I wasn’t born in Oberlin, Ohio, home of the small liberal arts college and music conservatory, Oberlin College, I spent my formative years growing up there.  Founded in 1833, Oberlin was a major focus of the abolitionist movement in the U.S. The town was an integrated community from its conception. African Americans attended Oberlin College from as early as 1835. A community known for its acceptance and equality, Oberlin was a major landing on the Underground Railroad. By 1852 thousands had already passed through the town on their way to freedom.
 
Oberlin continues to foster connectedness and equality to all regardless of one’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Growing up in Oberlin allowed me to experience a keen sense of community as well as encouraged me to expect respect and honor regardless of their race or culture.
 
Born post World War II, I’m definitely a Baby Boomer. As a result, I have had the fortune of experiencing several shifts of society starting with the Civil Rights Movement and the Feminist Movement of the liberal, culturally aware, consciousness raising decades of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I remember “love, peace, and unity” as being the mantra of the day – especially during the ‘60s. We were a generation of caring for another, reaching out and embracing those that were less fortunate than we. “Where’s the love?” “Why can’t we love one another?” the “Melting Pot Theory”, and “Care for Your Fellow Man” all represented the socio-political environment of that time.
 
I remember  “What About My Needs?” which depicted the generation of the ‘80s. As the ‘90s approached, the country shifted to a more conservative, technologically focused society (Remember the birth of the car phone and video games?) - only to be followed by the Generation “X’s” of the ‘90s, and“Y’s”, and “Z’ers of ’01, ’02, and ’03.  I don’t know what the name of the current generation is, but I bet it represents a society of Twitter, Facebook, and the like.  All representing our dependency on technology (aka “media”) to connect with others.
 
You might ask yourself “When was the last time I...":
  • Said “hi” to someone even though I didn’t know them?
  • Struck up a conversation with someone while I was standing in line instead of using my smart phone to check my email?
  • Paid it forward?
  • Stopped to realize that the world is not designed to be “just about me” but about “you and me” and about “we and us”?
  • Said “I like you” not because the other person has done something for me but just because?
  • Practiced acts of kindness as an active part of life instead of as a rare occurrence?
Every once and awhile I ask myself those questions. If ever I answer “I can’t remember”, I know I’m in trouble.  I’ve been living a life of “It’s all about me”.
 
And while the selfie culture and all that it represents does offer us an opportunity to focus on ourselves, we must not lose sight of our truest, highest calling. As human beings our greatest gifts are the depths that we can explore both within ourselves and one another through the miracle of connecting with one another.  
 
It’s ironic really. We have found ourselves within this culture that is fascinated by and with “self”. We fixate and focus on ourselves yet often from a very surface, even egotistical perspective. However, our deepest desire is to be known, to connect with one another on an authentic, soul-filled level. Our true inner capacity is only really expanded by learning about one another, and we’re gifted by learning more about whom we are through those experiences.
 
Our truest nature, our highest calling is present throughout it all. While we are addressing our need to be known and seen at a very surface level through the selfie phenomenon, within we are still subconsciously inspired to propel ourselves to be seen so that we can connect with others. Perhaps that’s the invitation here – to stop and ask ourselves the way in which we can connect more meaningfully with others and our lives. Under the surface – that’s where the true treasures are!

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