Monday Musings: What's the Deal with Selfies?
Happy Monday everybody! I hope you all had a great weekend. We got in late last night from a jam-packed wedding weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. B's brother got married (hooray!) and as is always the case with family weddings, it was a whirlwind of activity and emotion. Everything turned out beautifully, though, and we were thrilled to be a part of the festivities. But after a 7-hour flight delay and a snafu where we nearly got locked out of our apartment, it was nearly midnight by the time we actually got home. Needless to say, I'm pretty wiped.
This morning, I needed some time just to sift through my thoughts from the past week. I went to one of my favorite cafés, snagged an outdoor table, and ordered my usual (coffee and toast). After the requisite iPhone check, I pulled out my journal and just sat, observing. I took in the soft morning light, the bustling activity – people walking and biking by, car horns honking, construction noises competing with the rumblings of heavy trucks passing by. I gazed across the street at the pretty Catholic church, surrounded by trees and a steep brick wall, with a 200-year old cemetary off to the side. I love my neighborhood so much. Especially after spending several days in the 'burbs, it felt good to be back in the cacophony of the city, and the cozy charm of Nolita.
As I sat there just sort of taking it all in, I noticed several things. First of all, I felt antsy. I kept wanting to reach for my phone. To check email and Instagram and Facebook. (Heaven forbid I miss a like or an email!) I also felt this weird pressure to be documenting that exact moment. Why? I mean, how many times have I taken a picture of coffee and toast? Do people really care that much what I'm eating for breakfast? I resisted the urge and just sat through the discomfort. Then I noticed something else: nearly everyone I saw had an iPhone in their hand. Literally every single person at the cafe either had one on the table in front of them, or were holding it about two inches from their face. Most people passing by were either listening to music, talking, or texting on their phones. It's almost like we've forgotten how to be alone with our thoughts.
Then – the crowning moment – a taxi pulled up in front of me advertising a new TV show called Selfie. I inwardly groaned. First there was the song, then the book, and now a sitcom? Can someone help explain this crazy cultural phenomenon? This need to obsessively take – and share – pictures of ourselves? I posted one once – and felt so incredibly awkward that I deleted it immediately afterwards. The occasional selfie isn't necessarily a bad thing, I just worry if this trend is a reflection of a growing narcissism in our culture. I fear that all of this self-focus will negate our ability to look outward – at the world and at others – and stunt the growth of empathy and curiosity. Which would be a shame, indeed.
But selfies aside, I'm just curious if any of you, like me, feel a pressure to document your day-to-day lives? Have you ever felt like a moment will lose its significance if not captured – and shared? I think part of it is wrapped up in our need for validation – who doesn't like instant feedback and affirmation? But even more so, I think we have such a strong desire to connect – to be seen and known. Social media gives that feeling of connecting with loads of people, without the messiness of real relationship. But ironically, when we're actually with the people we care about the most (be it friends or family or spouses or kids) it's so easy to zone out on our devices, commenting back and forth with our virtual friends – totally disconnected from the present moment.
I'm not bringing any of this up to decry social media, or iPhones, or technology. I think all three are fantastic tools – and I wouldn't be able to do what I do if it weren't for technology and social media. I've made some really great friends and collaborators online, and I'm incredibly grateful. I just think it's good to talk about these issues, because let's be honest: we're all a bit obsessed. I know I am. And that disturbs me.
But technology isn't going away. It's going to become more and more influential in our lives, and it's up to us to set our boundaries. It's our responsibility to actually think about how we're using these tools – and why – and to make sure we're not sacrificing our real relationships in the process. It breaks my heart to see a couple, walking side-by-side, each engrossed in their phones. Or a group of friends out to eat, all on their phones, no one actually talking. Look – I've done it too, but can we all stop and just agree that this is ridiculous?! There's rarely something so urgent that it can't be set aside to enjoy a meal with a friend.
For me, it boils down to limiting my time on technology. I'm trying to keep early mornings sacred: rather than checking my phone first thing, I take a shower, have breakfast, spend time praying, reading, and journaling – all before using any technology. And my goal is to keep the hour before bed technology-free as well. And lastly, when I'm with friends – especially during a meal – I try to put my phone away and give my undivided attention. I'm not there yet, but these are at least my goals.
I'd love to hear from you all on this topic. How do you set boundaries on social media usage? Do you find that the more you spend scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, the easier it is to become dissatisfied with your own life? (That's definitely true for me.) And what do you think about selfies? Pro? Con? Glad we can talk through these issues!
P.S. If you're interested in this topic, check out these posts: "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (or is it?)," "A Return to the Table," "Fall Wanderlust (or How to Be in the Present Moment)," or this fantastic article in the NY Times "No Time to Think."
(Last 4 photos by Nate Poekert.)