I took a walk a few days ago. There’s this park down the road with a few trails in the woods and a big pond with a fountain in the middle. It was a nice day, warmer than usual, so I strolled down to the pond and stood there and stared at it for a while. At some point, a deer came out from the trees and walked up to the water several feet away. It was just a deer. I’ve seen a million deer in my life, nothing particularly special about this one. But it was a nice moment. Just me standing there, the pond, the grass, and this deer. The animal wasn’t as skittish as deer normally are. I thought that was strange. It was a little too friendly. I wondered if maybe it was rabid and it would attack me and try to eat my face. Do deer do that? I don’t know. But it was a nice moment, anyway. Just a moment in time, with the pond, and the grass, and the diseased deer. I needed this moment, I thought. A moment of quiet, of seclusion; a moment that’s allowed to just happen and then fade. A moment that, if it lives on at all, it lives only in some corner of my mind, rather than a corner of an Instagram profile.
Suddenly, I heard a click. It was a click I’ve heard a billion times before. Someone was taking a picture. Because of course someone was taking a picture. When is someone not taking a picture? I looked over and noticed a guy in a jogging suit standing nearby. I expected to see him with his camera trained on the deer, trying to get that perfect amateur nature shot of a #beautifuldayinthepark. But, confusingly, he had his back to it, holding his phone up in the air at a precarious angle. I looked off in that direction to see what other fascinating scene this dude was trying to capture. That’s when I realized: the camera was pointed at himself. He was, it seemed, attempting to get a photo of himself with the deer in the background. A deer selfie. I coughed loudly and scared the animal away, ruining his shot. Justice was served.
This is where we are now in society. It was bad enough when everyone started carrying cameras and camera phones around (remember when ‘camera phone’ was a thing?). Before the selfie craze took hold, there was the documentation craze. Every semi-notable and entirely unnotable event had to be freeze framed and shared. All of modern civilization began to experience their lives through these little lenses so that they could look back and remember that time when they were only sort of there to see it in real life.
My wife and I went on a cruise for our honeymoon. I remember that evening on the ship, leaving Jamaica, standing on the deck watching the sunset over the ocean with the island still a small speck on the horizon. I recall the breeze and the sound of the water crashing against the hull. The smell of the ocean and the pizza buffet wafting through the air. I remember the cocktail in my hand and the dread of realizing that I’d be getting a bill for all of these drinks once we got back to Miami. It was a moment of many different layers, like all moments, but I lived every layer. I lived that moment because there may never be another like it. I wanted to be in it. I wanted to be present for it. All around us the throngs of other passengers also stood watching the sunset, but they watched it through camera lenses, hoping to get that picturesque shot of the #sunsinkingbelowthewateryhorizon. It was a moment as big as the ocean itself, but these people all experienced it through a two inch screen. And for what? Why? To get a picture of a freaking sunset? There are a trillion of those online. Google image search: ocean sunset. Look. Look at all of the pictures. Nobody cares. Nobody cares about a picture of a sunset. Pictures of sunsets are worthless. Actual sunsets — those are priceless. But these people sacrificed the actual sunset in order to get a copy of a fake one. And for what, I ask again? For Facebook likes? For the sake of making your friends jealous? I’m sure they will be jealous for a second, but then they’ll move on. They don’t care that much. Nobody cares. So put your cameras away and be here. JUST BE HERE. BE HERE NOW. THERE’S ONLY ONE NOW, DON’T YOU PEOPLE UNDERSTAND? I wanted to scream that, but I didn’t. I just ranted to my wife later, and she went to sleep that night thinking, ‘God help me, I married an insane person.’
Of course, we still obsessively document everything, but our egomania, unchecked and encouraged, has begun to consume the world around us. Now we are mostly interested in documenting ourselves. Our faces. Our bodies. Us. We take a thousand pictures a day, and 999 are of us. We experience life with our back turned to it. Think about that. We turn our back to the world so that we can capture the sunset, or the deer, or the bear (yes, the bear), complemented by our smiling mugs. The good news is that karma often exacts swift vengeance upon the wildlife selfie artist, as was the case with this woman, who felt the need to ruin a perfectly nice photograph of a monkey by injecting herself into it. The deer isn’t beautiful enough on its own, the monkey isn’t worthy in its own right, these self-infatuated egoists have determined that these pictures really need me. Me. ME. Hey, everyone, it’s ME. Look at ME. I’m ME. Want to see some more of ME? ME ME ME ME.
Browse through an average person’s Facebook profile or Instagram account and find reams and reams and reams of pictures of themselves. Selfies and ‘usies’ and whatever other term we use to describe the act of plastering images of ourselves all over cyberspace. People standing in front of mirrors taking pictures of themselves taking pictures of themselves. It’s the perfect expression of vanity. It’s like holding a mirror up to a mirror and gazing into that endless hallway of reflections. This is how we see the world.
Nowadays, any opportunity is a good opportunity for a selfie. I mean, any opportunity. Some of us were disgusted a couple of days ago when dozens of onlookers took selfies near the police barricades at the hostage crisis in Australia. Then there’s this girl, who evacuated a crashed airplane and immediately took a selfie and posted it on Twitter. Then there are all of these people, snapping selfies at Holocaust memorials, on train tracks, outside of burning buildings, at the scene of medical emergencies, in public restrooms, and in jail. Sometimes people even take selfies at funeral services. And by ‘people’ I mean ‘the President of the United States.‘
OK, I’m not blowing your mind here. I’m not writing some kind of groundbreaking treatise. We know we’re entirely too obsessed with ourselves. We recognize the selfie phenomenon as something unhealthy and absurd. That’s why the whole planet watched and laughed at this video, taken by a heroic vigilante who secretly filmed some arrogant bimbo standing in the middle of a restaurant snapping dozens of photos of her face, her butt, and other parts of her body. Hey, at least she ‘loves herself,’ right? You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else, isn’t that how the idiotic saying goes?
Look, I’m not innocent here. I’m a hypocrite, I realize that. As a matter of fact, I’ve taken only one selfie in my whole life, and it happened last week. The kids were having blowout diapers and I was alone at the house to deal with it. I have a standard uniform protocol (scarf around the face, bag or rubber glove on the hands) for these kinds of situations, and I thought I’d share that image on Instagram. Oh yeah, I have an Instagram now. Selfies and Instagram accounts — what’s happening to me? I was told that I need to take more pictures to help ‘my brand.’ You can’t be a professional blogger without an Instagram profile and photographs of yourself littered all over the place, I’m informed. People want to see images from your life, Matt. Do they? Why? I’m a dude living a life, doing things, going places, just maneuvering through existence same as everyone else. Who cares?
And that’s the point. Nobody does. You can take pictures of your face all day long, but nobody cares. Nobody wants to see it. I know you want them to want to. You want everyone to care because you’re you, and that’s your face, and the very you-ness of you ought to be of great concern to everyone in the universe — but it’s not. It isn’t. You have people in your life who care about you, who know you, who love you and want you to be happy, but they especially don’t care about your selfies. The rest of us are strangers and your selfie is only another egoistic declaration amid a torrential sea of them. Another grinning mugshot in a collage of similarly gratuitous self-portraits. It’s meaningless to us, and it’s meaningless to you.
Really, who are these selfies for? Your family and friends? They already know what you look like. Your mother might look back on photos of you as a child and smile reminiscently, but she doesn’t care about your selfie from this morning, or last night, or Sunday afternoon, or the one you took at the mall on Saturday, or the one at the restaurant on Friday, or the one from last Thursday, or the 17 from the week before that. She doesn’t care, so who does? Us, the strangers? Why in the world would we care? So who are the pictures for? Not for family, not for friends, not for strangers — for who? For you? Do you really sit and flip through hundreds of photos of your own face? Why? Dear Lord, why?
This is sick, people. It’s disturbing. You see that, don’t you? We all see that. We know the world would be a better place if we stopped taking pictures of ourselves. We’d be living, at least. If we pulled the cameras away from our faces, we’d be able to find meaning in things. A meaning that extends quite a bit beyond, ‘hey, this will get a bunch of comments on Facebook!‘ On more than one occasion in my life I’ve been seated next to a booth full of women at Applebee’s who spend no less than half an hour, sometimes longer, taking pictures of themselves and each other. Precious time with friends, wasted by a compulsive need to get extensive footage of the encounter.
It’s a terrible thing. Let’s put an end to it. The holiday season is upon us, it’s almost Christmas. Now’s the perfect time. Here’s my challenge: this Christmas, when you’re gathered with family celebrating the Lord’s birth, take no selfies. None. Then go a step further: take no pictures at all. Too far? Fine, take a couple pictures of your family around the tree or whatever, and then put the phones and cameras away. You’ve got your snapshot, now get some memories. Not memories of you trying to capture a memory, but memories acquired organically, the old fashioned way.
Enough with the picture taking. Enough with the selfies. Now everyone get this movement going by taking a picture of yourself looking disgusted with people who take pictures of themselves. Make sure to post it to Instagram. #NoMoreSelfies