So what's the deal with the Selfie Generation? Are we all just obsessed with ourselves? Have we immersed ourselves in the frivolity that takes hold when one constantly has access to a camera? Surely we're not all that desperate for attention?
No, you stop that right now. Sit down and stop sneering about Kids with Gizmos and widespread self-centeredness. I'm gonna learn you a thing.
First of all, "selfies" aren't new. Rather, self-portraits and group portraits with people we care about are not new; ever since photography developed, we have used it to document ourselves, share ourselves with others, and create art. Before photography, there was more traditional visual art. Portraits have always been a thing. Among the first subjects of children's artwork are themselves and their families and friends. We like to see ourselves. We've always liked to see ourselves.
Secondly, photography has always been social to the extent it could be. Well before the Internet, it was (and continues to be!) very, very common for families to send portraits of the clan in Christmas cards, and school pictures to capture our children growing up (to be distributed between friends and sent to Grandma) were a staple from elementary school through our senior pictures. We shared our images with people we loved to symbolize our bonds with each other and allow faraway loved ones access to a captured sliver of our lives.
And lastly, now that the Internet has facilitated all kinds of long-distance communication, we lean on images to fill in the gaps in our relationships. At the beginning of the Internet, before images were common because of data restrictions, there was a widespread fear of Internet People--they weren't what they said they were! They probably wanted to hurt you! Because their text alone couldn't be trusted! You need to see their face! And if you do get a picture, they're probably lying to you! It might be an old picture, or a picture of somebody else! That would be a falsehood and a misrepresentation! RUN AWAY!
As Internet communication became more and more common, we learned to illustrate our conversations so all those people hung up on vision would start to feel more comfortable with the whole person on the other side of the Series of Tubes. If you could see them--see regular representations of them--you started to feel that they were real, that they existed in meat space like you, that they possessed certain attributes that they may not have told you about and that helped you understand the big picture of their identity. Sighted people tend to expect these cues in getting to know each other--which is not to say sight is necessary at all to become fully acquainted on the Internet, of course, but that people who regularly use sight to understand others will often expect to do so in their digital relationships as well. More pictures of us--more selfies--is a natural part of sharing ourselves with our Internet friends who usually aren't in our living rooms or at the coffeehouses with us.
So when I take a selfie, I am not saying hey look at me--I need your attention, I need your compliments, I need you to admire me, I need validation. I am saying "Here I am. I am putting myself on your screen because you are part of my life. I am using the technology available today to make myself a more integrated, more authentic piece of your world. Here is a piece of me. I am inviting you to see me the same way you would see me if we lived in the same city, in the same state, in the same country."
Selfies aren't selfish. They're just self. They're me, and they're for you, to help us be us.
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