Hidden Nuggets Series #57 – “Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing?” – Isaiah 44:10
Earlier this year I stumbled across this news report that blew my mind. A student broke the leg off a valuable early 19th century replica sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan, Italy. He didn’t accidentally bump into the Drunken Satyr sculpture (like my kids might do), which depicts a follower of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, passed out in a drunken state. It wasn’t quite that simple.
The reason the leg broke off was because the student was sitting on it…to taking selfies.
What is the world coming to?
We Live in a Selfie World
There is no denying it. We live in a taking selfies world. The preponderance of people flipping the image-capturing system of their camera 180 degrees to take a picture of themselves by themselves is growing with epic proportions.
Humanity has always exhibited a desire to leave depictions for posterity, even dating back to the ancients who used pictographs on cave walls. The invention of the camera made recording history exponentially easier and we set out to pose for pictures at national landmarks, with family members, side by side with celebrities, and of course freezing for individual self-portraits.
I’ve never been fond of self-portraits. Pictures of me with a group are fine. Me doing some activity or at a touristy point of interest are fine.
But sit me down for the dreaded yearbook picture or snap a photo “just because” and I get an uneasy feeling. It took me forever to get comfortable with the fact that my head shots would be plastered all over Twitter and Facebook, mostly in promotion of this blog. And it’s not because I think I’m ugly. Listen, I’m not Brad Pitt but I’m no Quasimodo either.
Are Selfies Narcissistic Behavior or Self-Expression?
Herein lies the big debate – is taking selfies contributing to humanity’s fascination with itself or are they a means of self-expression, a way to discover who we are and share that with others?
While I agree both sides may have merit, I lean 70/30 to the contributing-to-our-narcissistic-behavior camp. It’s simply how I see the world. We are way too caught up in ourselves and what others think of us.
I know my viewpoint has its underpinnings in my worldview and my faith in God. God’s words as found in the Bible speak of a definite displeasure with those who continuously display selfish tendencies. Time and time again He instructs us to “humble yourselves” (James 4:10), to avoid “selfish ambitions” (Galatians 5:20) and to “look out…for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).
Am I following any of those ideals when I turn my camera lens inward? The instant that hand movement occurs the moment becomes about me not what is going on around me. I’m placing myself into that moment when perhaps the moment was meant to exist by itself, with me serving only as an observer.
Is a sunset more visually valuable with me in it?
(For a more detailed look at the selfie craze and the narcissistic vs. self-expression debate, check out Elizabeth Day’s piece in the The Guardian, How Selfies Became a World Phenomenon.)
Rules for Taking Selfies
For the time being, selfies are here to stay. If you find yourself with a hankering to pose, follow these simple rules. I’ll admit some selfies are innocent enough…others not so much.
Take selfies if…
1. They are not about you. Ironically enough this can happen in the right circumstances. Perhaps the most famous and breathtaking selfie came from Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide. This spectacular image outside the international space station captures the vacuum of space, the sun, earth, fellow astronaut Sunita Williams and parts of the space station’s robotic arm (the last two both visible in the reflection of the visor). The best part is that you don’t see Aki’s face as the visor shields it. So, yes astronauts can take selfies.
2. They enhance a moment with a personal friend or family member. This is about creating memories that bond people together. One my best selfie moments ever involved our entire family as we were getting ready for a 5k run. It’s a headshot of all six of us, three across the top of the screen and three on the bottom. We all got a good laugh at it, along with my wife’s private listing of family and friends on Facebook.
3. You are trying to be an encouragement to someone. Perhaps you’ve been away from someone for some time, like the child off at college or the soldier serving on the front lines. In this way selfies could be used to connect with those away from home.
4. Only 1% of them are shared. Ok…that’s a bit of a random number. The point is most people want to connect with you in a deeper way. They can’t do that by only viewing endless selfies in their Facebook feed.
Avoid selfies if…
1. It takes hours and hundreds of snapshots just to get the right one. Selfies can be addicting. Spending hours per day taking selfies is cause for concern. Seek some help and put the iPhone away.
2. You are the POTUS or government official at any level. Some people think this is really cool – that it shows our elected leaders are just like the rest of us out here in the masses.
I’m a contrarian in that I don’t want them to be “just one of the guys.” They are representing us and should display a heightened sense of decorum and respect for their position. A government official posing for a selfie seems shallow and beneath the dignity of the office they hold.
3. They contain any sexual or provocatively oriented material. If you don’t think this is happening a quick browse of Twitter or Instagram will change your mind. (Parents I’m talking to you…check out your kid’s feed.) Why teens and adults and men and women alike insist on taking their clothes off and posing in sexually provocative ways is another topic altogether.
Do you really want your semi or fully naked body slapped all over the Internet for all time? Because don’t think that once you put your image out there it is not being screen shot, copied and reused as someone’s property before you can take it down off your site. You never know where an image ends up.
Oh that reminds me…I hope the employer you are interviewing with doesn’t do some social media research and look you up. Good luck getting that job.
Oh that reminds me again…there are whackos all over the Internet that prey on young people, especially girls. You are opening up a potential can of worms by posting your explicit pictures.
4. It’s just to get a thumbs up vote, attract a following and draw attention to yourself. I have many blogger friends online. But those relationships can only advance so far. They only deepen when personal contact is made. More than likely the people who like you online today will be gone tomorrow.
We want you in the real world forming relationships. That’s where true, lasting friendships are found.
The Taking Selfies Conclusion
I guess you alone will have to answer the big question – Why am I taking selfies in the first place? Do you simply find it fun or is there a real or imagined psychological need they are filling?
My challenge is to turn the camera lens so it’s pointing away from your face more often. Photograph others and the world around you. Choose to connect in the real world, not by posting endless selfies on Instagram. What’s that getting you but a bunch of thumbs up votes and a lot of false hope for abiding relationships?
Questions: Do you think taking selfies demonstrate narcissistic behavior, self-expression or something in between? How many selfies do you take a day? What other rules (for good or bad) can you add to my list?
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