The selfie… is a tribute to narcissism, an ode to our desire to be desired and the epitome of self-projection
Diseases have been the bane of humanity since time immemorial. In the last few centuries alone, millions have perished to the likes of cholera, smallpox and tuberculosis. The 21st century holds out promises for the cure of modern illnesses such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Perhaps the latter half of the 20th century and beyond has been the best time for human beings to live in and survive the ravages of diseases and illnesses as medicine and science march on relentlessly to find treatments. Yet, a disease threatens the fabric of our social behaviour. Propelled by technology, this disease shows no mercy, does not discriminate on the basis of gender or age and perpetuates itself across all social and economic classes.
The selfie… yes, the selfie… is a tribute to narcissism, an ode to our desire to be desired and the epitome of self-projection. An existentialist craving, a Descartian justification or a Freudian self-gratification; the great philosophers and psychoanalysts of the past would, today, revisit their seminal works to incorporate the selfie as the glorification of all that is the self. Visit any restaurant, cafe, museum, tourist landmark, office, home, school and the like and one can see the selfie. Smartphones armed with high-pixel cameras, now ubiquitous and affordable, appear to be a natural extension of one’s palm. Furthermore, the combination of these cameras and photoshop apps is lethal — it has fuelled the rise of selfies as now even the most badly taken picture can be given the treatment to appear alluring and pleasant.
One does not wish to be overly critical. There is, of course, a time for pictures to be taken and to be shared (a foregone conclusion given the pervasiveness of Facebook and Whatsapp), and one can understand one taking a picture of self and family in front of Minar-e-Pakistan or the Machu Picchu ruins, or at the wedding function of a dear one and so on. And yes, occasionally, when nobody is around to take a photograph of a solo traveller, it is permissible to take a selfie. But why, oh Lord, is the human race so fascinated with the task of taking a picture of one’s self in nearly all situations of life! Every meeting and every moment, however routine or even mundane, is quickly transformed into a selfie event or a Groupie event if the number of persons is more than one in the picture. Whether it is a bevy of beauties at a tea party or at the launch of a new restaurant or whether it is a bored businessman checking into a business class lounge or young college students in a cafe or whether it is a housewife taking a selfie with her new cat or a young teenager showing himself getting a haircut, the selfie craze has now reached epidemic proportions and with the advent of the selfie stick matters are bound to get worse.
The selfie phenomenon, sadly, has also added to the rolls of the Darwin Awards; we now read of people killed in accidents while taking the ultimate selfie. Remember reading about the young woman in Romania who became a strong contender for the Darwin Awards when she was killed on top of a train? Or the Polish couple who fell off a cliff in Portugal while aiming for the perfect selfie? The list, I am sad to say, will only become longer with time.
Throughout history, humans have recorded their existence, whether it was in the form of crude drawings in caves or brilliant works of art by the masters, and the first selfies can be traced back to the self-portraits made by painters. But it is one thing for Mr Van Gogh to have an ego trip and quite another for your next-door neighbour to do the same while reversing his new car out of the driveway. In the distant future, say some few hundred years down the line, when our descendants will look over the recordings of our time, they will reach the inescapable conclusion that our time was one of an obsession with the self and that the thoughts that crossed our minds on a daily basis must have been me, myself and selfie!
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2015.
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