You’re So Vain

October 3, 2013Vain selfie

Get over yourself with those selfies

It seems that I just can’t get enough of my own face.

Holding my iPhone at arm’s length, I cock my right eyebrow in a rakish pose and hold my chin with my free hand. Click. I check it out. Not quite the thing for my LinkedIn page. Tone down the charisma, I tell myself. This should look professional.

One more try, a little less eyebrow this time. Click. Huh? No, not yet, I decide. So I go over to the window for more light, then outside for a lot more light, then inside again, indirect light, for a sitting-at-my-desk-and-thinking-deep-thoughts shot. Click, click. Forty minutes and many, many clicks later, it hits me: I can’t stop. I’m 64 years old but I might as well be 11.

I’m caught in the selfie loop.

I’ve joined the millions who have fallen into the vortex of the selfie, both of the photo kind and the video kind. The other day while passing a slow driver on the expressway, I glanced over to see her taking selfies — or perhaps making a very, very independent film — with her smartphone held over the steering wheel directly at eye level. Speeding along to put distance between myself and this menace, I wondered how much I actually shared her mania. For instance, perpetually amazed at the miracle that my tiny phone doubles as a video camera, I find myself turning it on and recording sights, no matter how mundane, wherever I go: on the sidewalk, in the bus, at the zoo, at the coffee shop — action movies taken by an action kind of guy.

Of course, many regard all this as the sign of the decline — even plummeting — of civilization. Back in the day, the critique goes, human beings weren’t so narcissistic. They didn’t crave visual verification of their own existence. They didn’t hope to collect “followers” who track their activities all day long. They didn’t send out to the world photos of themselves holding their newborn on the right side of the couch pretending to sleep, then on the left side of the couch smiling, then on the right side of the couch singing, and on and on.

But I wonder: If Aristotle or Caesar or Shakespeare had owned smartphones, could they have resisted the selfie loop? Isn’t it just human to want to see our own face, the one thing we can never see directly? And for that matter, wouldn’t we be grateful to have Shakespeare’s selfies to stare at and speculate endlessly about? Wouldn’t we relish a chance to see the selfies of a French artisan-laborer of the Middle Ages, as he stands grinning in front of the gargoyle he has just finished sculpting?

So, with some reservations, I think I’ll continue to aim my phone at my face. Future generations will love to gaze at my image, I tell myself, if only to see a gargoyle of the early Internet Age.