There's nothing new about "selfies." Except for the term coined into the mainstream last year.
My dad's 1960s-era 35mm Petri was equipped with a timer that allowed the moments of our lives, gathered at various places such as in the gardens behind the State Capitol or on the walkway stretching along the boat docks on Monterey Fisherman's Wharf, to be recorded for posterity. He'd set it and run into the picture - hoping one of us kids wasn't looking down or failing to smile.
I suppose you can't classify those timer-taken photos as "selfies" unless, of course, they were only of one person. I'm glad my Dad took many group photos of us as a big family with great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins and siblings. What the memory erased out is filled in with sharp colorful details down to the gaudy plaid pattern of pants I wore as a kid.
We didn't have the internet in the 1960s to share our photos with the world like today. We could put on slide shows in the living room and those who weren't in the photos found the process quickly boring. Just like today's selfies on the internet, friends will tolerate them to a point.
I'm not alone in the Facebook world who finds incessant display of selfies a bit tasteless to the point that I strive not to take them anymore. If you've been anywhere lately you've probably noticed how narcissistic society has become. People take selfies everywhere.
I was startled one day to see a young lady sitting in her car with her cell phone camera held in my direction when I realized she wasn't performing espionage on me but taking a photo of herself. Her smile and head tilt told me the front camera was on, not the back camera. I'm sure it was on Instagram before she could turn the key in the ignition.
During a hike to Half Dome this summer, I saw a foreigner using a long pole designed to take selfies from a distance greater than an arm's length. I watched him engrossed in taking what seemed like 30 minutes of poses with his boyfriend at all angles with Vernal Falls in the background. As soon as they were snapped, both heads craned over the video screen to study them. He tried to make the exercise look natural but his self-serving priority was rather embarrassing evident and obnoxious. Then he took even more photos to be instantly analyzed to see if they made the grade. I wondered if they were going to take a break from their narcissism and take in the awesome view of the falls and let the mind's camera record it. John Muir was likely rolling over in his grave.
It's natural to want photos of ourselves in vistas to take back home - to a point. But the concept of selfies is so prevalent that when I stood atop Enchanted Rock near San Antonio, Texas earlier this month with my son and girlfriend, it didn't at first dawn on me to hand the camera to a stranger.
I guess it's not the selfie or the act of taking one that necessarily disturbs me. Most disturbing is the self-absorption that people have and the rush to post egocentric photos for the world hoping to find validation as a desirable human being with a "like." As if people weren't preoccupied enough with self, now they can measure it on Facebook or Twitter! If a person doesn't get what they think is enough comments or likes then they get all emotionally wobbly.
As a father who's raised three sons and a daughter, I am disturbed with by sultry, lip-pursing, dough-eyed, look-how-sexy-I-am photos that young ladies take and post. This kind of attention-seeking screams of our young people's insecurities. Young ladies as young as 12 feel they are nothing if males aren't wagging their tongues over their "hotness." But then again, look at how some of them are allowed to dress.
Culture is training our kids to think it's all about them. Life is not all about ourselves. Life is much bigger than ourselves and selfies.
For once, it would be nice to see kids - indeed even ourselves - take a break and crawl out of "self" and social media and think of others and ways to make the world a better place. Chores without being prodded. Giving a neighbor or loved one a gift card for a dinner they otherwise wouldn't take. Taking a meal to a homeless person. Writing a kind note to someone to say you've been thinking about him. Or even taking a walk and picking up trash around the block. What about slowing down and just being still and quiet and meditating on a deep thought?
Rebecca Savastio wrote in Liberty Voice: "...it has been proven by multiple studies that interacting with other types of social media is definitively linked to narcissism, depression, low self-esteem, addiction and a host of other negative effect. For example, Facebook use has been linked to depression while Twitter use has been linked to low self-esteem and narcissism. If selfies, specifically, are proven in the future to cause these negative mental health issues, it would most likely come as no surprise to experts in the fields of psychology and medicine.
"Is it possible that taking selfies causes mental illness, addiction, narcissism and suicide? Many psychologists say yes, and warn parents to pay close attention to what kids are doing online ..."
Although people are more connected than ever before, people never felt lonelier. Conversation is reduced to a text or a tweet, not face-to-face time. The example of Antjuan Miguel Colvin, 21, comes to mind. The young Waterford man ended his life on Christmas day 2012 when he parked his car on the Santa Fe Railroad tracks at Service Road near Hughson and waited for a train. Forty-five minutes prior to the crash he announced through Facebook that he was on his way to killing himself: "I know it's not my time to go but I cannot take living any longer. So as of tonight I will end my life."
The day before he died Colvin posted: "Tomorrow is Christmas ..... :(."" Facebook friends asked what the sad face represented and he replied, "something im trying to deal with on my own right now." The month before his suicide, Colvin posted a picture with a quote: "I hide all of my problems behind my smile. Behind my smile is a world of pain. You think you know me, but you have no idea."
Had he confided his struggle to others - face to face - Colvin might have chosen a different path other than the drastic one taken.
Look, all of us take selfies. Even senior citizens take them. But like anything it can get out of balance and become an addiction. Hopefully we'll examine our motives and do a lot less trying to impress the world - or ourselves.
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