Posted by: gdevi | August 14, 2015

Selfies are Bad for Me

I have always liked two o’clock in the afternoon. When I was a kid growing up in India, this was the perfect time to wander to the verandah behind the kitchen to watch the cook wash the pots and pans; to stare into the eyes of the black crow on the compound wall; or watch the earthworms squirm inside the compost heap. The cook looked up and smiled and kept washing; the crow flew away, and the worms were not aware of me looking at them. They burrowed deeper and vanished.

Now that I am older, I use this time to take a nap, or to water the withering plants, pick up after my daughter, clean the kitchen, or read something for fun in my chair by the window facing the afternoon sun. It is a meaningful, vibrant time for me.

So I picked two o’clock in the afternoon as the ideal time to take a series of selfies for the first time. I took pictures of myself at two o’clock for the past one week. What will I find about myself? Because that is what I had read on the internet; selfies are like diaries. Young people take selfies as a way to figure things about themselves. Young people take selfies because it gives them an opportunity to feel like someone in a world where a sense of identity is hard to justify. You will discover things about yourself; the net discussions assured me.  It is fun. It is an experience. Okay, I told myself.

Maybe it is my age–I will be 50 next year–but as it turned out, my polyptych of myself at two o’clock in the afternoon only showed me myself taking pictures of myself. There was no new information. I looked the same. My thoughts were the same.

When I took the selfie, I thought to myself, “I am taking a selfie.”

When I looked at my selfie, I thought to myself, “That’s my selfie.”

That was it.

The English word “self” is different from the related “I,” and “me,” the nominative and the objective cases of That Which We Are, the First Person in grammar. Self, in philosophy, is the essential nature, that which experiences life, as opposed to the experiences themselves. The Self is sometimes seen in a dialectical bind with the Other. This is the ground of striving that opens up little glimpses of life to the living. It is admittedly Hegelian, but what else makes sense these days?

Can one hundred plus selfies, all of them taken at more or less identical shooting angles and lighting conditions, with identical postures, pouting lips and flat-ironed hair reveal our essential nature?

My experiment with taking selfies was to discover the answer to these questions. But my experiment, as you can tell, was not very scientific, lacking as it did proper controls. But improper scientific method notwithstanding, I did glean some insights from my selfie-taking.

Lesson One: Selfies confirm that you are not dead.

The first most obvious finding from taking selfies was that I was not dead. A dead person cannot take a photo of themselves. So at the very least, every subject of a selfie, unless proven otherwise, is alive.

Lesson Two: Background is overrated in a photo.

Think of your favorite photos taken by other people: you and the dog with that bee in the morning glory; you in that kayak tipping over; you looking at that boy behind the old woman walking away into the red mountains. The background and surrounding details distract from fully admiring your own face. In a selfie, you don’t have to worry about the background or the perspective. A selfie is all about you, your face, or your butt, if you are a celebrity, like Rihanna.

Lesson Three: Pose, pose, pose. Candidness is so passé.

A selfie is all about posing. No snapping a picture when you are not looking. No way. You are always looking. So pose, point and click.

There is a famous 1904 photograph of James Joyce taken by his friend C. P. Curran. Joyce is standing with feet apart in a straight inverted V framed against a windowpane partially opened in an identical straight inverted V. Joyce looks dapper in a shoddy sort of way, hands in pocket, head tilted towards the opening of the window, eyes looking straight into the lens of the camera. When asked what he was thinking when the photo was taken, Joyce is reported to have said, “I was wondering would he (Curran) lend me five shillings.”

With a selfie you are not giving anything away of value, like Joyce did. In all likelihood, you are not thinking at all, or if you are, you are thinking that you are taking a selfie.

The human mind simply admits defeat at the big blocks of absolutely empty blank minds that posed, pointed and clicked over and over and over again to post selfies on the internet.

The human mind boggles at everything you did not see of the world around you, and the cost of missing it all to you, because you were only looking at yourself for most of your life.


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