Selfies. They are a trend in themselves, they have become a way of life. Not for everyone though. And as happens with any change, there are skeptics; the selfie phenomenon has spawned some of its own. But let’s first see what selfies are, then what they could be doing to you or for you, and then we’ll address these skeptics.
These here are what you know of as selfies.
Selfie was crowned the word of the year for 2013, by Oxford Dictionary.
Here’s a definition they’ve provided:
a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media. Along with this remark, “occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary”
I do not however find the definition helpful. If they had stopped before going into the whole social media thing or even the smartphone aspect of it, I’d have been happier. And then there wouldn’t have been a need to include the remark. The remark is really the problem.
But, leaving this boring talk of theory and definition aside, let’s tackle some practicality.
So, what are selfies?
or what can selfies be? – remember I am talking of selfies and not a selfie.
- A document of the evolution of you
Remember how amusing it feels to see a photograph of yourself from just a couple years back. And how something from your now distant childhood is even more amusing. What if you could create a document of the evolution of you one day at a time, as opposed to getting photographs clicked only occasionally. This document would be a physical copy of the mental impressions of yourself you’ve stored over time. It can provide insight and be useful in numerous other ways.
Start with generating a collection of selfies over a month at first and see for yourself.
- A link across time.
You probably already know that we change every 7 years. If not, yes, the entire structure you call you, has been replaced part by part within the past seven years with new parts such that today, you do not have anything in common with the 7 years ago you. And this isn’t just physical, here’s an article talking about the emotional and mental changes that also happen in such 7 year cycles.
Now consider this, if you have been changing each 7 years, in physical, mental and emotional terms, how do you know for sure that that picture of you you have in your photo album is really of you. Maybe you’ve taught yourself this memory, and now because it’s a memory it is implicity true. This process is essential and is probably the only reason holding you sane. This teaching needs assistance however, and if not for photographs, it would have been nightmarish; you’d constantly be forgetting what you were the moment before. No doubt, you’d remember the world outside because you could see it and experience it, but what of this person called you. How much of him are you able to see? And remember?
- They are evidence that you are a work in progress. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
If you have some way of witnessing that you yourself are changing into a new, better entity every passing moment of everyday, maybe the critic inside your head judging your every thought and thereby action wouldn’t be so hard on you. If you can see that tomorrow you will do better than you did today, you will never have to heed to that voice inside your head that says this was the best you could have done, that you were a slave to circumstance. Then, you will never have to compromise on anything, you will always strive to live another day, to experience a better form of you in that day. Infact, Evolution, yes the Darwinian Evolution, is itself pointing at this rather slow-paced but efficient and self-correcting algorithm at play.
- Evidence that things can change for good.
Ever hurt yourself? Remember how powerful it feels to know that you can heal. And to see it in action. Wow. Now imagine how calming it would feel to be able to experience the same again, but this time without actually falling off of that bike or something else much more dreadful.
- Evidence that things can change for bad.
Tragedy can strike anyone, in any moment and to be able accept that there are powers beyond and far larger than yours can be very helpful. Yesterday’s selfie showed you glowing with beauty, today your face is rather mangled in blood and open tissue. It’s good if we can learn to accommodate for changes, drastic changes such as these in our mental model of reality. We would then be able to not overly attach ourselves with one thing; obsession would never take shape here.
- Circular and in constant motion.
The last 2 points are evidence that life runs in constant motion and on a circular path. You can go from good to bad, only to return to good and then again to bad. Here, there can be no permanence and it is futile to ever hope for one. Stagnant waters aren’t rivers and as much as they wish to see the oceans, they never will. Of course individually each molecule will turn to vapour and after a substantial amount of the others have also evaporated and formed a cloud and given the right circumstances they will fall as water in rains and join some stream to continue on to the ocean.
The moral being you can feel stuck for a long time in either of the two, good or bad that is, and so you have to have mechanisms in place to remind yourself that it will change. Also let’s face it, we are not very good at imagining things independent of the many states of our minds. Photographs are a necessity to jumpstart such elaborate journeys into imaginations and to create hope.
- A reminder of how far you’ve come.
You’ve overcome tragedies, you’ve lived through life at its fullest, you’ve grown physically, you’ve grown emotionally, you’ve filled yourself with knowledge, you’ve been to places. You were injured, you were hurt, you were fine, you were feeling like on the top of the worlds. You were real, you were there, you are here.
Do you see how a photograph from each instance in your wonderfully crafted life can help you relive these memories?
- Look into yourself.
Really looking into someone’s eyes can tell you a lot of things, looking into your own eyes, can tell you even more.
- An exercise in connecting your emotions with your expressions more accurately.
Stand in front of a mirror and try to emote what you feel. Express concern, smile, laugh, or simply look attentive. Are you able to convince yourself that the expression you see on the face in the mirror is what concern, smile or laughter really look like? Yes it is uncanny. You think you are emoting a certain feeling but it doesn’t end up looking like it on the outside. This needs practice, like any other artform. What are actors anyway. This is their art and it is incredibly difficult but practice will take you there and because mirrors only provide live feedback and our eyes are programmed to skip between scenes, photographs can help better.
On a slightly related note, here’s a Ted-Ed video comparing Eyes to Cameras
- A powerful aid in recollecting memories.
This one is specific to selfies. Photographs of places you’ve visited or things you’ve done help you relive the moment by becoming a medium to transport you back to it. Now imagine if among many of these photos you also have a photograph showing your face and your eyes in sharp focus while you were there: a selfie. Do you think this would help enhance recollection of the things you’d felt then, not just the happenings, but your perception of the happenings; and also help you see the possible chain of events triggered inside your head as a result of those happenings, completely uncorrupted by time.
- Learn because you crave knowledge.
If you do it right, you’ll learn a lot about lighting, analyzing images, and filters will teach you about colors and their moods and a lot many other things..
Eg.: Understanding light in a scene means having created a model of the space you are in and interacting with it inside your head, such that you know beforehand that if the source of light is placed in such and such a way, what specific spot would be ideal for the kind of shot you need. This basically means interacting with the scene from the outside, as if in third person. Again an artform in itself. Photographers, designers, thinkers, philosophers, and many others employ similar techniques to help solve problems here by looking from a higher standpoint there.
To the skeptics,
- I know Oxford Dictionary is not wrong in including the social media aspect in the definition as it is a defining trait for selfies. Self portraits are not a recent invention and if not for the social media aspect, selfies and self portraits would have been the same. But I ask, is there a difference? Or do we need a difference if we are to look at selfies in the manner described above.
- Yes, some of the ideas discussed above apply to photography as a whole and not to selfies specifically but I think of selfies as being equivalent to a gateway into photography, into the arts of life. And then I am justified in using the ideas of photography to lure my audience in, to invite them into this world of knowledge and learning.
- One of the observations of the evolution of cellphones is that with the increasing megapixels for cameras and the host of activities a typical cellphone is now found supporting, the increments in onboard memory on the cellphone haven’t really been able to keep up. And we’ve ended up resorting to cloud storage or other such mediums, yes social media platforms qualify under this, to store a part of our information.
- Also, technology is making lives easier and as much as we’d like to argue that technology will be the end of us, I think it will not be so. People not knowing how to best employ advancements in technology in ways that are beneficial to us, in the long run, would be the end of us. Coming up with new technologies is the task of the scientists, the designers, the researchers, the engineers of time and space and of matter. There is a need here for the philosophers and the thinkers of today to task themselves with not just thinking about the many advancements but also presenting their interpretations of these advancements to the people and educate them.
To conclude, the Sun used nuclear fusion energy to create life here on earth, some of us used the same principles to eradicate life. Nuclear energy isn’t inherently good or bad and we now realise that. Today we’ve evolved ways to put it to demonstrably good use for a better future for all us. The one thing that has changed since Hiroshima and Nagasaki is our perspective of looking at nuclear research. And see what wonders we’ve uncovered since.
Perhaps, selfies too deserve an honest relook.
Cover Artwork by Emilee Anne