Selfies are all the rage... but it is tempting to dismiss them as a passing fad, or worse, yet another example of a narcissistic society obsessed with instant gratification and instantaneous fame. But the selfie is important because it is not just a portrait of ourselves, but a portrait of our times as well.
Jason taking a selfie of Jason contemplating the meaning of selfies
Over the past fifteen years technology has changed our world. It has yanked power out of the hands of media owners and governments, and placed it in the hands of the general public. It is democratising everything. The selfie is a product of this shifting dynamic and it is symbolic of our new, empowered citizenry. Today, almost everyone has access to a camera-phone and the ability to share their photographs with a global audience. In the past, portraits were reserved for royalty and those in power, but today the common people pictured in these selfies are the people-in-power and this is their preferred style of portraiture. Every selfie taken, regardless of how trivial it may seem, is a proud declaration of our connected generation's newfound ability to communicate in a free and frictionless manner.
It is also tempting to underestimate the importance of the selfie because of the throw-away manner in which it is used. But the selfie's disposable nature is significant because it represents a society in which the value of information is no longer determined by its permanence, but by its transience. In the past, the world's knowledge was preserved in leather-bound books, but today it is spurted-out in the form of 140-character tweets that flow like rivers of rainwater towards an ocean of infinite knowledge. We live in a world where art and wisdom are no longer to be found only in museums and books, but within the fabric of our ever-expanding collective consciousness - a consciousness increasingly comprised of transient digital content like selfies.
But for me, the most significant aspect of the selfie is the fact that it is a profound reflection of humankind's increasing intimacy with technology. According to author and inventor, Ray Kurzweil, humankind is rapidly moving towards a "singularity" - a point of convergence between human and machine. Kurzweil believes that when artificial intelligence finally surpasses human intelligence, we will be forced to merge with technology. He refers to life beyond this point as Transhumanism. While one may find these predictions far-fetched, a quick inventory of our daily tech usage indicates that we are indeed headed along this trajectory. The selfie marks an important step on this journey, because it is a symbolic reflection of our gradual convergence with the machine. If Kurzweil's theories do indeed prove to be true, then the selfie can provide us with a glimpse of what this co-evolved human/machine consciousness may look like.
In a world of Transhumanism, the subject of a portrait and the tool with which that portrait is made, will become one. The painter will, in effect, become the paintbrush. The photographer will become the camera. We will become both subject and object... and that will change the nature of "the self" and of portraiture forever. So, next time you take a selfie, look deep into your lens and you may discover that your reflection is in fact a projection of your future self.
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Great article! and good comment too - Are we questioning the importance of placing relevant context to your chosen moment to share that selfie -is it key in creating the perception of being acceptably appropriate? or is it the intimacy we are purposefully challenging - and on the lighter side it does look like you are standing in the bathroom...? I hope you washed your hands first! :)
Funny story: I was stuck in an all day conference in Istanbul when I was asked to take a Selfie to accompany this article. I had literally no time, and I had to find somewhere suitable to take it inside the building. I decided that a photo of me taking a photo of me would be suitably self-reflective, so I went in search of a mirror. No prizes for guessing where I found one (-:
First and formost I like your profile picture Jason how topical it made me smile !
you are indeed tapping into the deeper meaning of why we feel the compelling need to take selfies in almost all spheres of our lives , whats problematic with this phenomena is that we no longer know when to draw the line between public and private ,we have become completely indecisive on which content is ok to share on the public domain and which should remain strictly private we no longer decide all we do is capture and post exactly in that order .
This became evident when I witnessed a pregnant couple posting every single picture of the sonar on every single social media , poor child if only he or she that the parents already took a selfie of him or her before he or she was even born.
But then again it is an area we living in that perpetuates this kind of behavior . Like Jason has mentioned above we are living in an era of instant gratification, narcissism, and attention deficit , a generation thats obsessed with getting multiple "likes " and "retweets"
I guess I cant frown too much upon taking selfies, because I too take them , infact a week cannot go by without taking a selfie. Selfies are fun , spontaneous , most importantly we take them to capture beautiful, intimate , delicate moments firstly with ourselves and then family and friends but in essence all i am advocating is know when to draw the line between shareable and non sharable content.
what an insightful article Jason it truly refreshed my day and compelled me to put in my two cents worth
Have you read "The Circle" by Dave Eggers? It is a novel that explores some of the issues you have raised - the line between public and private, the notion of openness and sharing and at what point it is all just too much.