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What do selfies tell us about our culture?

By Shaun Berge Donald

I know what you are thinking, what sort of fossilised nonsense is going to follow a title like that? I wonder that as well, so bear with me.

As long as fashions change, there will forever be resistance to it. I still heave a pretentious sigh when I see someone unashamedly taking selfies on a bus, waiting in a queue, or just anywhere there is a public presence. It’s difficult to shake. Yet I’m also guilty of the same. 

So why is it okay for me to take a picture of myself and not others? I think there’s a misconception that when we see it happening it must be all about the me-me-me of that stranger. Look at me, look at what I’m doing, look at my life. But when we do it there must be another reason.

There is something else at play if we strip away our initial judgements. This isn’t self-obsession as much as it is outer-dependence. I am not sending these selfies to myself, I want others to see it.

The obsession therefore lies in the opinions of another. I want you to see it because I want you to remember I am a part of your life. Thus, this surge of selfies is perhaps more recognisable as an abundance of existence. We just want to be remembered; this is our imprint.

Credit: businessinsider.com

What does this say about us? Yes, we’re looking at ourselves whilst thinking of others. Yes, we care about ourselves and those around us. But this visual introspection, this wondering ‘who am I and what do I mean to others?’, creates a new prospect.

It reinvents our traditional sense of reality. We are solidly in the centre of this vision and while this happens, perhaps it’s the ideal time to look towards self-improvement.

It’s a fact universally acknowledged that a picture is an imperfect look at the world. It tells a thousand words and not every one of them is true. We smile and so we must be happy, we laugh and we must be having a great time, we cry and we are in perpetual sadness.

These images last longer than the moments they depict. So what are selfies telling us?

We are giving ourselves an opportunity to look at ourselves and do better, improve our lives by knowing where we are and where we want to go. I begin to think of our outlook on health, relationships, and politics.

This might be a stretch and I won’t hold it against you to think so, but by looking at ourselves we are forced to consider our own well-being. If I am not happy with the way I look, then it is about time I did something about it.

If I am unhappy with the way my relationships look, then it is about time I made some changes. And therein we bring this to a larger scale, evolve this self-obsession to greater things. I’ll reiterate: bear with me.

I don’t like the direction our politics is headed, I am unhappy with the way that our environment is being treated, I am unhappy with much of our literary culture in modern day.

If I don’t like it, if it is affecting me in a shallow way as simple as making me unhappy, this self-obsessed person should start doing something to make themselves feel better. As a result, I make changes, I take part in new events. 

There is an organisation called Extinction Rebellion who cause civil disobedience, who discuss methods to force parliament to look seriously at climate change.

I think to myself, how can I make a change to this world and my health?  I cut out animal products from my life – benefitting both health and planet. I look to the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world” and I look at my latest selfie and think, I am, I am doing what I can. It’s invigorating. And what of literature?

Well, start creating. If you think the culture should change, guess what? You’d better do it. You are the biggest force of change in your life. Start acting like it.

I am sure many are rolling their eyes. Thinking, damn this was a preachy piece. But what do you expect from a topic so self-indulgent as taking pictures of ourselves and publicising them for others to deem worthy? When we look at ourselves, it’s perhaps important to wonder who it is we are looking at.

When I next see someone taking a picture of themselves, I’ll do my best not to pass judgement, because I think we do that enough to ourselves. Maybe it is enough just to be happy that we feel brave enough to proclaim our existence.

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