It's 2015 and it seems we should be long past having an opinion on selfies — taking pictures of ourselves has existed as long as the technology has been available. Really, this is nothing new. But because our behavior has been under the microscope of the Internet via social networks for the last decade or so, the judgement around what is TMI (too much information for the less acronym-savvy) is heavy and harsh. I hear and see a lot of griping from my fellow humans when it comes to the ubiquitous selfie or as it was once known, the GPOY (Gratuitous Picture Of Yourself); the idea of doing something as simple as taking a picture of yourself and putting it on display can be very controversial.
Last week, I posted to Facebook a declaration of sorts — I simply stated that I liked seeing selfies and that I wanted to see more of them in my timeline. The post blew up, causing dozens of my friends from many a social circle to either comment in agreement or do what I had hoped, and post their own selfie. Suddenly, the post was full of people instead of tiny avatars with words next to them. That was my whole point — to get people out of their little boxes and show their many different faces. It was a small effort on my part to not only expose the human-ness of my virtual world, but to enjoy the people in it, though many of my 1,500 or so friends on Facebook I've never even met.
I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that I've definitely had some not-so-kind feelings about other when I see their selfies — at some points, the excessive "look at me, I'm at the gym" selfies or the person who posts several selfies a week (or sometimes multiple times in one day) has grated on my attitude toward said acquaintances and strangers. But like many issues we can harbor toward other humans, it was when I took a step back I that realized it wasn't them or their selfies — it was my own feelings of inadequacy about myself. Maybe I wasn't going to the gym enough that week or maybe I was jealous that I didn't have the self-esteem to post pictures of myself every day. Not a huge revelation, but it definitely changed my internal discourse when I would later scroll across these images on Instagram or FB.
There is also this misconception that we can control our social networks and in turn, the people in them. The truth is, you can't. Facebook and Twitter may have options for "unfollowing" or "muting" people you don't want to actually delete (though I don't know why you wouldn't just delete the people you don't enjoy hearing from — I do it all the time!) You can attempt to curate your online experience as much as you want, but just like in the real world, you can't control other people. If your method of perceived manipulation is to throw a rant up on Facebook several times a week about all of the things "other people" are doing wrong (which is where I often see gripes about selfies,) you just become "old man yells at cloud." If anything, it's those kinds of grumpy diatribes that change the way I feel about a person, not their excessive selfie posting.
There is an ongoing argument that circulates around the Twitterverse and Facebooklandia (as one of my FB friends has beautifully labeled it) that we should be spending more time together in our tangible human forms and less time interacting in the cold, calculated virtual world. Of course I agree with this to a certain extent — but I also think that some of these relationships are best left to the web. I really don't want or need to see dozens of people I don't really know that well in real life. Like, that person I worked with three jobs ago and never was great friends with in the first place but enjoy seeing their pictures from all of their tropical vacations? I'm okay with not being real-life friends. I don't know what we would talk about anyway, other than, well, their selfies of them on the beach that I see in my newsfeed and enjoy. Internet relationships created by friend requests are not guaranteers of intimate connections; they can sometimes just be interactive human business cards in your address book of life and that's about it. They don't have to be full of meaning and substance.
But the other side of this acceptance of Internet friendship is that sometimes, a selfie is as close as I'm going to get to my best friend. I'm 34; many of my friends have gotten married and moved across the country or uprooted to start new bands or just decided that this place is no longer for them. Because I can't afford to visit those couple hundred or so people very often (if at all,) I really enjoy being able to see and experience what often seems like mundanity of their daily lives through selfies. I have best friends in Massachusetts who have twins that I wish I could see every holiday, but I can't. Instead I get to see their Halloween costumes and cute Christmas photos and enjoy them from afar. Or for my good friends in bands who I used to be able to see play live weekly, now I just get to enjoy photos and videos of their shows. It's a closeness I value.
Sure, many of these instances are stretching the definition of the often-dreaded selfie. But they are still virtual forms of humans we know and the human lives they lead. I am not the first to say this, but I love your obsessive pictures of your babies, your dogs, your cats, your band on tour, your significant other looking gorgeous, your family, your wedding and your child's graduation from kindergarten. Most of all, I really like seeing pictures of you, friends and strangers. So bring on the selfies!
P.s - A special thank you to all of my friends who offered up their images for this post. I love your selfies!
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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