The ‘Selfie Generation’: Seeing Beyond The Narcissism

Rogros / www.twenty20.com/photos/7d28d0a8-0c8e-4620-b4b6-2c505efbf1d4
Rogros / www.twenty20.com/photos/7d28d0a8-0c8e-4620-b4b6-2c505efbf1d4

A regular day in my Facebook newsfeed includes about fifteen to twenty selfies of my internet acquaintances. Some of those are not just pictures, bonus points to those who posts a whole album of just their face with the current date as a title, which only means that they probably intend to do the same thing tomorrow.

Which is why it should not come as a surprise that we are now dubbed as the Selfie Generation.  It bothered me when I first heard it, but it’s true. We do love to take selfies and groupies, and describe our pictures, feelings, and life experiences in 140 characters or less.

But calling us as the Self(ie) Generation, as I see it, is supposed to tell us that we are being narcissistic, shallow, and self-centered in a way that no other generation has ever been. With the rise of social media, it has become a common notion that posting selfies = instant likes and favorites = plus points on your self-esteem. While there may be some truth behind it, I think it is going too far to say that those who take selfies and post them in social media are self-obsessed and egocentric. And it is definitely not fair to generalize and ridicule an entire generation for it.

I get it. The perpetual snapping of photos on smartphones and uploading them on the internet for everyone to see could be annoying. Why do people have to take photos of moments instead of just living it? Why do they have to take selfies with the sunset instead of just watching it? Why cheapen the moment by taking something amazing and reducing it to a tiny image on a screen? Even the word itself sounds cheap. Selfie. It sounds informal and insignificant.

As of the date of writing, #selfie on Instagram has more than 180 million pictures, while #me has more than 290 million. It is so easy to call it out as being superficial. After all, it concentrates on the ‘me, me, and me’ and invites judgment based on appearance alone. You post a picture of yourself and wait for the verdict, your self-worth increasing with the number of likes that you get, or destroyed by the opposite- a resounding silence.

In this brave new world of hashtags, it is not uncommon that people chase after 15-seconds of fame which comes so easily in social media. All the signs point to one thing, that our generation’s level of narcissism has reached an all-time high. That ours is a generation that is characterized by the rise of superficial, twerking, planking, and duck-faced egomaniacs.

But before we all pack up and close shop in search for another planet with more intelligent life form, there’s another way to see this. Sure, taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr all at once so that the world can see how hot or cool or stupid you are isn’t exactly high art. But there is a very thin line between self-centered and self-empowered, and our generation that is right in the middle of this technological revolution shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed as the former.

Comedian David Mitchell said that, ‘it is a natural human urge to assert the fact that you exist.’ This is why we carved our names on the trunk of trees when we were little, wrote our initials on bathroom stalls, vandalized armchairs with “Polido was here” (using your own name, of course). There is nothing new about the selfie and the statement it makes. It is only the technology that makes it different from its primitive ancestors. Rich Victorian families have their photographs taken, or their portraits painted: the photographer and the artist didn’t pick their subjects, they were just the technology via which the rich and famous took pictures of themselves. Vanity is not exclusive in our generation, it is a part of human history. We have always wanted to look at ourselves since the dawn of time. Although back then we used earth to paint caves, then marble to see our three dimensional form, then light to make pictures, and now electrons and megapixels to create digital images.

The selfies that we take are not mere symbols of our self-obsession. It can be seen as a quiet protest against the ‘perfect image’ that media is constantly trying to feed us. We see flawless celebrities on television and we don’t see ourselves in them, they are far too perfect to represent the likes of us. So what do we do? We take pictures of ourselves and post that on the Internet. This way, we can look at our Instagram feed and see images of real people- with beautiful diversity. Admittedly, a selfie oftentimes has to conform to beauty standards. Still, I choose to believe that when we post a selfie that we like, it’s a message to the world that we see ourselves positively. A selfie could change our point of view from having a secret, internal caption of “This is everything I need to change” to “This is everything that’s great about myself.” And besides, it took us 4-5 tries just to get that one shot that we like, of course it’s perfect.

Taking groupies and selfies is who we are and there is no chance of going back. In fact, with the trend in technology, future advancements will make it even easier to share not just photos but information about ourselves in ways we can’t imagine now. But the legacy of our “selfie generation” must be more than just photobombing a friend’s picture or gloating when one of our tweets is retweeted to infinity. Our generation has an opportunity with these social media platforms to raise awareness about issues we personally believe need to be addressed.

The selfie is a strange act. Personally, I don’t take them, but I have my own reasons. I can see why people take and post so many of them online. Our generation basically lives on the internet and we breathe social media. It helps us affirm our identity when we put our faces in places and platforms that everyone can see. It is a way for us to communicate our thoughts, and to share our life with everyone else. And what could be so wrong about taking your own photo just because you want to? People post selfies because they think they look dashing in their #OOTD, get over it. There is something beautiful about a generation that believes that it is worth being seen or being looked at. Want to post a selfie because you are feeling awesome today? Go ahead. Post that picture just because you look #CuteAsHell. TC mark

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