The word of last year, according to the Oxford Dictionary, was “Selfie”:
“Selfie – a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website” – has been named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries editors, after the frequency of its usage increased by 17,000% over the past 12 months.” (Click here for the whole article)
Why has this phenomenon taken such a grasp on our psyche, and is it, as some suggest a sign of the dumbing down of humanity? Wallace and I talked about the “Selfie” this week on his Sunday morning show on Radio Live. (Click here for the audio of the interview)
Firstly we have to acknowledge the obvious role of technology, and man-kinds long history of wanting to see ourselves, whether it’s painted on the wall of a cave, painted on canvas or on a printed photograph. Portraits used to be the domain of the wealthy and upper class, and gradually over time as they have become more easily produced, the realm of the middle class as well.
I think this highlights that the desire to see ourselves, and to be seen by others, is a deep psychological need within all of us. And with the rise of technology taking an image of ourselves, and moreover publishing it to the world, has become ubiquitous.
Some however, like psychoanalyst and technology researcher Sherry Turlke, suggest caution:
“A selfie, like any photograph, interrupts experience to mark the moment. In this, it shares something with all the other ways we break up our day, when we text during class, in meetings, at the theater, at dinners with friends… ..Technology doesn’t just do things for us. It does things to us, changing not just what we do but who we are. The selfie makes us accustomed to putting ourselves and those around us “on pause” in order to document our lives. It is an extension of how we have learned to put our conversations “on pause” when we send or receive a text, an image, an email, a call. When you get accustomed to a life of stops and starts, you get less accustomed to reflecting on where you are and what you are thinking.” (Click here for the whole article)”
However it’s also true that many don’t see our collective obsession with the “look at me” photo as a sign of the end of humanity. There will always be those that do things to an extreme, and use technology to distract to the point of disconnection. That was true with books, movies and the television before the rise of global connectivity.
When used with thoughtfulness, our ability to not just say “look at me” to our friends and acquaintances, but “look at me; here I am” via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter adds something to our lives and our relationships. Albeit in a way that we’re still coming to grips with:
“Turkle imagines that any interaction with technology somehow negates all the time spent doing other things. She also imagines that we must devote ourselves in only one way to every task: At a dinner table, we are only serious and focused on conversation; at a memorial service, we are only mournful. That is not the way we live. It’s never been the way we live. And that’s the beauty of technology, which Turkle cannot see: We can use it for all purposes, to express joy and sadness, to have long conversations or send short texts. We made it. It is us.” (Click here for the whole article)
It’s not hyperbole to say we’re living in the middle of a revolution. And we don’t know how it will turn out yet, but like most generations it can be tempting to hold onto what we know, and to be afraid of what’s coming. A documented life doesn’t have to be narcissistic, meaningless or disconnected. It all depends on what you document, and how you use it to connect with those you care about.
And that’s always been true.