Monday, November 10, 2014

Life: More Than a Selfie (And Why It's Not Smart to Take a Selfie with a Bear)

Selfie (noun, informal) 1. A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media

You can’t live in our world these days without being aware of the social phenomenon of “the selfie”, a digital image in which the one who snaps the photo is always the center of attention.  The focus.  The number one subject.  There may be other elements in the picture, other people or landmarks, but pretty much most of the time a selfie is, by its nature, all about “me”.   “Me” at the Grand Canyon.  “Me” at a Patriots football game.  “Me” at a wedding on the Cape.  Me. The selfie formula is then completed by uploading that self portrait to cyberspace where other “me’s” can see their fellow “me’s” too.  Me looking at me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.

I tried a few times to take a selfie.  Epic fails.  I couldn’t figure out how to get my phone to make the shot. It felt kind of weird to indulge in such self focused portraiture.  And when I did finally snap a picture, it was at such an odd angle, that it came out as a warped view up my nose. Probably wouldn’t garner many “likes” on Facebook so I deleted that photo. I’m a selfie sad sack. 

The taking of selfies has even become risky business, as some scramble to get the absolute best and most dramatic photos. At last summer’s Tour De France bicycle race, several riders were thrown off their bikes and injured when enthusiastic selfie takers stepped right out onto the course.  “CHEESE!” and then a selfie snapper got run over by a cyclist zooming at 25 miles per hour.  Or there’s the selfie folks at Lake Tahoe in California who take “bear selfies”, posing right in front of live grizzlies. I’m not making this up.  Park Rangers are, of course, trying to ban this dangerous practice but I’m waiting for the selfie photo of the split second just before a bear acts like a bear!  Then I suppose the next selfie will be from a hospital bed.

I’m not anti-selfie. There’s joy and fun in capturing a moment in time when we are really happy or excited, or visiting somewhere we’ve never been before. There’s a loveable goofiness to snapping a selfie and then sharing it with others, a kid like declaration of “Hey! Look at me!”  I get that.

But when I look at all the most important photos in my life, the pictures I’ve saved and framed and display in my house and office, almost every one of them is with other people. There’s not many selfies in the bunch, very few solo shots.  Instead there I am with family at my brother’s wedding twenty nine years ago, all of us smiling and happy, together. There I am embraced by my father on one side and my grandfather on the other, three generations standing tall on a summer day long ago.  A snapshot of me baptizing a little baby girl, pouring water over her forehead, as I cradle her in my arms, the blues skies of an October Nantucket day as a backdrop. There I am with my six year old Goddaughter in a booth at a pancake restaurant, our special breakfast together, her smile a mile wide, ringed by chocolate.

I do have a few selfies I guess I could matte and frame and then hang on the wall.  There’s the stiff formal portrait I had taken for the church photo directory. But no. It’ll stay in the drawer, for the picture makes me look like Mr. Potato Head.  There’s one of me on my bike in a recent charity ride, but that photo is missing my teammates, who gave me the courage to finish all 88 miles. If not for them I might not have kept riding. 

So…I think I’ll stick with group photos, when I am in a crowd, a community, a relationship. These remind me that in almost all of the times in life when I am happiest, at peace, connected to God, making a difference, giving love and feeling love: it’s not a “me” moment. It’s a “we” moment. Photographic memories teach me that with other people: this is how I find my true place in the world.

I’ll leave the selfie taking to other folks. Especially the ones featuring a grizzly bear.




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