Generation Selfie

Published 1:05 pm Monday, January 8, 2018

It seems that every generation has a pet name, the Beats for the 1950s, Woodstock or hippies for the 1960s, Millennials for those born after 1980, and, at present, Generation Selfie after a seemingly obsessive, even compulsive social use of the internet, apps of all kinds, and all sorts of electronic devices.

Really, now, how many pictures do we need to take of ourselves and of everything and everyone around us?  Do we really need Amazon or Apple to develop a tiny selfie drone that sits on the wrist like a firefly ready to dart away at a command and light up for the perfect picture angle? 

Is nothing uneventful anymore?  Surely something in life must be boring.  In the last decade, perhaps more photographs have been taken than in all other years combined, an average video library today might have 50,000 or more photographs, albums, and videos.  Except on first blush, how many are actually recalled and albumed?   

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Then, too, it’s difficult to dine out these days without watching a silent table next to you, everyone bent over their smart phones texting and messaging their friends to tell them of the experience they’re having. 

Yet is every bit of social trivia really that interesting of itself and to others?  All of our daily activities?  Our body parts?  Exactly what image of ourselves are we projecting and sharing?  Why? 

Movie theaters and public events sometimes glow in the dark from electronic devices, some even holding them to their ears while they watch a movie or event.  As the holidays recede, perhaps family get-togethers will be remembered as more dysfunctional and disunited than ever, a room full of strangers texting and messaging others. 

Additionally, the advent of voice messaging like Siri and Alexa now means that you can hear unsolicited conversations in almost any waiting area, public space, or room at home. 

Moreover, so dependent have we become on apps and texting that even the simplest of routines like pumping gas or driving requires us to ask Google how to do it. 

Yet does Google really have all the answers to the most philosophical questions that make life interesting?  What is love?  Or death?  Is there life after Google?  It seems that, with the advent of electronics, we have lost some of our most basic cognitive functions along with our ability to sympathize and bond with others.

In sum, as the writer Michael Harris observes, we have become more “socially obese, gorged on constant connection but never properly nourished.”  We always need more.  The result? 

Gen Selfie perhaps is more lonely, stressed, self-absorbed, depressed, and solitary in its pursuits, perhaps cut off from a deeper sense of self that comes with a healthy ability to be all alone in a world that abhors solitude. Today, our behaviors, ambitions, desires, and values might be shaped not by our parents, teachers, churches, and local surroundings but by apps, texts, messaging, hyper-connections, chat rooms, and by cultural forces that reach far beyond anything we have as individuals.  You can even have any identity you choose in cyberspace, any self, false or fantasized, apart from your own reality.

Supposedly many of the new technologies and hyper-connectedness boosts our self-esteem, a form of social vaccine that blunts or displaces problems like child or social abuse, poverty, educational and personal shortcomings, sexual dysfunctions and anxieties, alcohol and drug abuse, family problems, and low self-esteem. 

It also exposes Gen Selfie to the darker, seamier side of human nature itself, cyber-bullying, identify theft, pornography in all its technicolored forms, and might even encourage risky behaviors not ordinarily considered.  Perhaps.

Yet is all this simply another lament by an older generation that views new technologies only marginally understood as threatening to their sense of society and self, sort of like radio to the 1920s and TV to the 1950s?  After all, I grew up admiring the rugged individuality and honest selfishness of John Galt in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) as did President Donald Trump and all the Gordon Gekkos of Wall Street, not all that much removed from today’s narcissistic generation selfies. 

In fact, my generation created yours, and, if you don’t care about your community, the planet on which you live, your God, the environment, or neighbors, it’s probably because I was also otherwise engaged.  Picture that.         

Milton Ready, Tryon, N.C.