During our very uplifting and enjoyable athletic banquet this past week, Coach Scatena added a new dimension – he took some ‘selfies’ throughout the evening. Most of the shots were of students receiving awards or of coaches handing an award to a student. These were celebratory selfies.
“Selfie”- a self-portrait photograph usually taken with a mobile phone - made it into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Lately, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of selfies. Are they good or bad? Most commentators seem to believe that they represent much that is wrong with our society - image-conscious narcissism, approval-seeking, desperation, loneliness, inability to communicate face to face, and poor self-esteem.
Many selfies do represent these negative images. They are publicizing some of society’s excesses and ills. Photography, however, has always played this role. The difference though between photography and selfies lies in the democratization of this process. Anyone can create a selfie, great photojournalists were serious methodical artists and they were a small circle of people. Additionally, the capability of instantly propelling selfies through social media means that their reach is far greater and swifter than any forum in which photographers have historically shared their work.
The selfie itself is an impartial tool. It can be used for good or for bad. In some ways it is a correction to photo-shopped photography…the selfie is the raw, unedited view. Some commentators are particularly concerned about adolescent girls use of selfies to find validation from those whom they exchange their photos. I would argue that for most young people, this is part of their developmental need – to figure out their identity and to find their unique voice. The context in which they have always done this is among their friends. A well researched book, It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd develops this argument further with respect to all social media.
A very interesting conversation about selfies and female body image appears in this documentary that was featured at the Sundance Festival this past season. It is a terrific case of how the selfie can be a positive force. At the end of the day, the selfie is an impartial tool. It is how we use it that matters. For parents, it is about understanding it and knowing why and how your children are using selfies that becomes important.