Selfie-culture or Self-culture?
In lieu of the recent celebrity-naked-selfie-hacking, I am going to talk about selfies, and because it’s absolutely appropriate, I am going to include some of my past selfies as you read along.
Selfie – a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.
The selfie has recently taken our culture by storm, but I think people struggle to understand why or how the selfie came to be. Initially, people claimed it was a display of self-assurance or self-importance, but years down the road, you see almost everyone around you taking selfies. Even those that vowed never to take a photo of themselves standing in front of a mirror now do just that. I’ve even seen my dad take a selfie. Despite all this, people can’t always explain for themselves why they participate in the selfie-culture. It’s like being possessed – You just do it – And you feel satisfied by it somehow. I think there are many different reasons people take selfies. Here are a few examples:
Admire yourself and give reason for others to admire you
To share experiences
Art & Creativity
And of course, to show off your cats
All of these reasons for posting selfies give way for instant interaction and open dialogue with the public. It’s a way to relate to the outside world. Overall, I feel the selfie is an outward exploration of oneself, as in, what do people think of me? How am I seen compared to others? Are there others like me? How can I share this experience with people? Through selfies, you can remove yourself from your “self” and see “you” from an outsider’s perspective. Seeing yourself through the eyes of others is interesting and fascinating to many people and selfies is a tool used to explore that.
I know I just made a case for selfies, but I am fully aware of the scrutiny surrounding the selfie. There is this notion that our society is turning excessively narcissistic as a result of social media and selfies. This makes me ask the age-old question, which came first, the chicken or the egg?
In America, we really cultivate the idea of self in many ways. Growing up in school I remember always getting the opportunity to decorate my desk, or my cubby, or binder, and to make it my own. There were entire days spent on creating things that represented who I was. There were art projects dedicated to expressing who I was as an individual – Art projects that were posted on the walls of the school so I could bring my parents and friends in, point to the art, and say, “Look! That’s me!” Even my bedroom wasn’t just a place to sleep, but also a place to define myself – I had painted walls, posters, and other characterizing things that made the room me. Even now, when I buy a car, I say things to myself like, “Which one is most like me?” It might seem strange to claim that something like decorating your locker in junior high gave any impetus to the selfie you just took, but all our lives we have learned to utilize the things we own and our space to express who we are.
The marketing industry is very aware of how much our culture values individuality. Advertisements often have the underlying message of What’s your style? Which one is you? Stand-out, Be yourself, I could go on. Many products are made to be personalized to the individual in some way, whether it’s different colors, different styles of clothing, or different personalities. – These are all ways someone can define themselves as a consumer. I imagine, in some other countries, the idea of owning anything that is personalized to you in some way or the idea of creating an entire space dedicated to yourself and your own personality is absurd. In America, we own hot pink blenders and cars that scream your personality with bumper stickers that say “I’m a big hippy” or “Honk if you like cheese” and then line the back seat with Beanie Babies. There are video games that simulate designing your own wardrobe, and you can actually win this game. We pay people to help us be individuals whether through clothing or home decor, and we buy dogs that look like ourselves. Individualism and self-expression are very strong ideologies in America.
I’m not claiming that our self-culture is either good or bad – I’m just expressing that when you look back and see how much we’ve been conditioned to express our selves as individuals, it’s no surprise that we have found a new platform to express how we identify ourselves. The Internet is such a grander scale than anything we’ve had available to us before, and people love using it to say to the world, “This is who I am.” Ultimately, we haven’t become narcissistic. – We’ve just discovered a better way of being so.