Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The "Selfie" Syndrome

What in the world is a "selfie?" Does that describe a person, or a photo, or both?

Some "selfies" are somewhat necessary, like
when no one else is present to capture the image.
Say, for example, you happen to be floating in
outer space...

As I mentioned in the previous post, I tend to encounter these new-age expressions and the technologies they represent at the end of the curve, by the time they're already old hat.

Having just recently seen this "word" in print for the first time, I was rather taken aback. Okay, it wasn't in "print" in the conventional sense. But it was used without italics in an article on CNN.

I instinctively opened a new "window" (no, my real windows all remained closed. It's 9 degrees outside. Sheesh!) and attempted to "navigate" to to search for a definition of this unfamiliar expression. Unfortunately, in my great haste I omitted the second "g" and found myself reading all about a quaint seaside city in Eastern England call Goole. (Read all about it on, and no need to Laugh Out Loud.)

Fortunately, I soon realized that I took a wrong turn and navigated my way back to Google with two g's. (I've always been lousy at navigation, and thanks to GPS, have no need for it anymore.)

As it turns out, "selfie" appears in respectable dictionary sites. According to Merriam Webster, a "selfie" is "an image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social network."

Something about this word made me uneasy. I couldn't articulate it at the time.

Shortly thereafter, in family discussion, I mentioned my aversion for this new term, not just the word but the idea it represents. Taking photos of yourself strikes me as self-obsessed and self-absorbed. Whom are you smiling for? Whom are you posing for?

My daughter was quick to show me that my very own mobile device has a self photo option. That means there's a camera lens in front too. 

Needless to say, I have not made use of this option, and have asked my family members not to use it in my presence.

Something profoundly disgusted me when I heard that our president had allowed himself to be filmed taking "selfies" of himself and broadcasted publicly.

When I view examples of "selfies" on the web, there's something oddly different in the eyes of the individual photographing himself. Or maybe it's the way they position their eyes, chin, face. 

Well, in my opinion, a photograph is primarily a means for others to view and remember you, not a means for you to view yourself. If you are so concerned with how others view you and crave flattering photos of yourself, then for crying out loud, let the "other" take the photo.

When one takes self photos and posts it on his profile, he is beckoning me, the "other," to view him as he views himself, with ostensible self-flattery and self adoration. On a more extreme level, an individual who experiences delusions of grandeur believes that the whole world views him in the same "larger than life" manner as he views himself.

When I pose and smile for another, I allow the "other" to view me and capture that viewpoint on photograph. I make room for the other. It is not about me viewing myself. It's not about self-aggrandizement. This is a photo worth keeping. There's benefit in knowing how others view you so you can have a more balanced view of yourself.

Furthermore, the very word "selfie" in somewhat offensive, or at least its inflection. Nouns with "ie" or "y" on the end are typically diminutive or endearing. "Selfie" implies "your little self" or your "cute little self."

Is that how we define a healthy perspective of self? To have self esteem means to appreciate and validate oneself as a self respecting human being. Just as there is something inherently objectionable about someone with an inflated sense of self, so too there is something wrong with having a diminished sense of self.

Referring to a self-captured image as a "selfie" implies that you define yourself by your appearance as depicted in the photo you have just taken. It also implies that you view yourself as a cute little "selfie," nothing more than an object of people's attention or admiration.

Perhaps the deeper lesson here is that "selfie" obsession relates to your more diminutive or "lower" self, a step down from your "higher" self, your more expansive adult mind.

In Hebrew, we refer to this more objective, healthier state of mind as מוחין דגדלות (mochin d'gadlut), your larger mind, as opposed to the  מוחין דקטנות (mochin d'katnut), the subjective "smaller mind."

Superficial faces of Facebook and mindless tweets of Twitter have already distanced us from meaningful relationships in the real world. As we have pointed out numerous times on this blog, iPhones have already given us a phoney and diminutive sense of self. A small and petty i, attached to an upper-case and prominent Phone, implies that the two have morphed into one inseparable entity. I am defined by my phone.*

"Sefie-ness" now brings us to a new low, ever more immersed in the morass of pettiness and lower self, further detached from higher self. I am now defined by a mere image on my phone (or social media page), and even more so by how many "likes" it generates.

In conclusion, I propose we eschew the word "selfie" along with the self-oriented behavior it represents, with all due respect to Merriam Webster. Let's all strive to become less self-preoccupied and more self-effacing. Selfless giving sure beats being self serving. Self sacrifice is far more personally rewarding than self photography.

Parenthetically, it recently occurred to me that the term "cell phone" pronounced quickly actually sounds like "self-phone." Can it be that the phonetic "self" encrypted into the expression "cell phone" explains why its use has become so prevalent in modern parlance? I  have been told that "cell" is abbreviated from "cellular," supposedly referring to short-range radio towers that somehow resemble biological cells. Plus, "mobile phone" or "wireless phone" are both multi-syllabic, as opposed to "cell." But perhaps there's a deeper reason, a subliminal connotation to "self" in the ubiquitous "cell phone" that accounts for its wide appeal.

Come to think of it, maybe there's phonetic significance in both words. "Cell phone" = "self own." Hmm. This raises another questions. Do you own your phone, or does your phone own you?

Okay, enough rambling for one day.

Time to get back to work in the real (non-virtual) world.

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