Social media is a wonderful thing. Whether it’s toppling governments in the Middle East or helping you to keep up with your aunt’s holiday snaps, there’s no denying that it’s changed the way we live our lives forever. But for all the good that social media has accomplished, the likes of Twitter and Facebook have a lot to answer for, starting with the selfie.
For the lucky few who are uninitiated with this new-found phenomenon, a selfie is essentially a self-portrait, often taken at arm’s length from an unflattering angle and instantly uploaded to your social media site of choice. In essence it’s the digital equivalent of someone shouting “look at me” at the top of their lungs, only with more pouting.
Even if you’re not sure what they are, the chances are that you’ve come across society’s penchant for self-portraiture in recent months. Earlier this year, for example, Barack Obama hit the headlines after he was caught snapping a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Ellen DeGeneres then broke the Internet with her infamous Oscars selfie, before Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield topped them all with the first-ever “space selfie.”
It’s not just the elite that are at it, either—John Q. Public is in on the act too; only instead of capturing spacewalks, the average selfie-snapper has taken to recording everything from new haircuts to their morning coffee and even “funeral selfies”. Indeed, the act of taking a photo of yourself has become so ubiquitous that the word selfie has even made it into The Oxford English Dictionary.
This summer, however, selfie taking reached an even lower ebb when self-snapping spectators caused a crash that injured cyclists in the early stages of the Tour de France. One racer labelled the accident “a dangerous mix of vanity and stupidity,” but he might just as well have been describing selfies themselves, which are increasingly showcasing the very worst elements of our society.
Why are we so obsessed with incessantly chronicling the mundane minutiae of our everyday lives? It seems we’ve stopped actually experiencing life. Our natural inclination is no longer to marvel at the beauty of nature or the achievements of our fellow man, but to fumble in our pockets and reach for our smartphones. We no longer live in the moment or enjoy the wonders of the world first-hand. Instead, in narcissistic unison, we’re literally turning our backs on the world in order to snap a photo of us standing in front of it.
I get it, life is scary. We need to inject meaning into our existence; otherwise, we’re all just desperately clinging to a rock that’s hurtling through space. But haven’t we all rolled our eyes enough at our friends’ “look what I did” pictures to realize that no one cares? It’s time we took a long, hard look at ourselves—and not through a camera lens. There’s a whole beautiful, jaw-dropping world out there filled with a kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, and sights that no amount of Instagram filters or carefully chosen hashtags could ever capture. So next time you’re about to snap a selfie, why not put the camera down, and instead of showing people that you were there, try to remember what being there actually feels like.