I’ve never endangered my life taking a selfie, but a lot of other people have. Their commonsense was overpowered by the ego trip of posing with a wild animal, or they stepped into the abyss to grab the one photo (the last photo) of themselves that would propel them to ultimate coolness. Seriously, a guy jumped into the air at the edge of a cliff to get a photo of himself appearing to fly. But, oops. He couldn’t fly. Hundreds of people have died taking selfies. Thousands have been injured. Personally, I’m willing to risk skin cancer posing in the bright sun, but that’s about it.
Photographic self portraits aren’t new. A cute guy named Robert Cornelius took the first selfie in Philadelphia in 1839, and people with cameras have been photographing themselves every since. But smart phones have inspired some to go to extremes, posing in front of oncoming trains, giant ocean waves, with a loaded gun, with a herd of wild elephants, a walrus, an injured bear, hanging from electric wires, at a cliff’s edge, on the shore of a raging river, or beside a very deep hole. They became so engrossed in photographing themselves that they forgot where they were. I recommend posing in a nice armchair with pink lipstick.
In 1839, people didn’t travel as much as we do today, and they weren’t competing for attention the way we are. Back then mobility required a horse and buggy. Having a horse required horse food and local farms. Having a buggy required chopping down trees, skinning cows, and blacksmithing. A horse and buggy traveled at about 10 mph, and people kept the same job in the same place for their whole lives. Mobility was slow and complicated, certainly not a lifestyle.
Today mobility is a given. We move around so much we hardly notice it anymore, chatting on social media like we’re all at the same party, when many of us are oceans apart. Changing jobs and homes as often as we do scatters our friends and family across continents, fragmenting our time and space, chopping our relationships into bits and bytes. Social media gives us a virtual reality that waits for us to catch up with each other in frozen moments of connection. My selfie is me saying hello to you on the sidewalk, or at the grocery store. Oh, hey, hi, how are you? You look great. Love your new haircut.
Our brains need to see faces. Humans are hardwired for facial recognition. That’s what gives selfies their power. It took a while for me to get used to posting pictures of myself, but I quickly learned that people will scroll past blocks of text. My selfie yells and waves, Hey, wait, don’t pass me by. Read me. I’m a writer. I don’t exist if you don’t read me. Like all humans, I want to be seen. Please don’t make me kiss a walrus to get your attention.