Pictures, for the sake of Memories
There’s nothing wrong with snapping pics at a concert, on a hike, or at the mall with friends. I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with that. Pictures store memories. Scrolling back through your phone’s album or flipping through a physical one is meant to be a good time. Sure, nowadays the phone album often also contains pictures of dinner and three or four shots of the same thing, but the principle still stands. Used in moderation, phones and their picture-taking ability are not the enemy.
Selfie culture is.
‘Humans used to have to bow down to look at themselves in pools of water if they wanted to see their own face. There was symbolism in the act.’
– anonymous Tumblr User
Researchers say that selfies posted to social media can negatively impact self-esteem. At least, research show that quitting social media or purely lurking instead of posting your own pics is likely to make you more satisfied with your own appearance than you were when you were interacting. Social media simultaneously boosts someone’s own self-perception while making them reliant on social media to deliver that boost – they become dependent on people telling them they look good, so their self-esteem is no longer internal.
That’s not all! Some part of taking a selfie turns other, more reasonable parts of the brain off. Ever throw away your keys instead of your empty drink cup? Or walk into a room, only to forget what you were going to do once you were there? The brain becomes so focused on getting all of the details of the picture right that it stops performing other tasks relating to awareness of one’s surroundings. The selfie is like that. The potential for the reward, those likes and positive compliments, removes worries about things like “context” and “imagery”.
Sometimes setting up the picture means losing the plot of why someone wanted to take that picture in the first place!
Filming a Concert
A video went viral on TikTok a month or two ago. A woman was filming a concert. That’s not too unusual – people like to keep records. Even if the quality is poor, they’ll presumably still like it for the memories it holds. What was unusual about this one was that she A) brought a portable USB ring light to the event (which is why her face is so brightly lit in that darkened bar) and B) was filming it using the front-facing camera so she could also capture herself dancing while she recorded. As @InfluencersInTheWild puts it, it’s a bad case of ‘Main Character Syndrome’, a condition in which people lose sight of what events are for.
Real life isn’t a movie – ‘Main Character Syndrome’ says it is, you just need to be filming for it to happen. Everyone else becomes a background character. Like this video here! There’s an entire crowd watching this performance, plus the performance itself, but she’s not willing to film it for her channel if she can’t also be in the spotlight, which is why she’s opted to watch it through her phone’s screen as she records, instead of live, a mere 80 degree turn to the left. She literally brought her own spotlight so she could do this.
Visible here, via the link: https://www.tiktok.com/@influencersinthewild/video/6955627276885036293
There’s a lot to unpack here. As said before, there’s nothing wrong with filming a concert. Some people might even film it in reverse with themselves in the frame, which is weird to me but not creepy. This crossed into creepy territory. The fact that she brought her own lighting to film this event specifically in this manner says she’s premeditated all of it to look spontaneous and quirky, the same way an ordinary person taking a natural photo would be. Speaking of strange attempts to look natural…
Fake Mirror Shots
A strange trend where people, usually with an above-average amount of followers, have a picture taken of them with their phone in their hand. The idea is to simulate the mirror selfie, an artifact of a time before ‘second phones’ and millions of little phone stands for the purpose littered the market.
You can tell there’s no mirror in those photos by the lack of glare, any dust, and the incorrect angles of the camera to the ‘mirror’. Sometimes the framing is a clue too. Most mirrors have frames. If someone’s standing at a distance from a ‘mirror’ and there’s a lot of stuff around them but no hint of frame, it’s either a really big mirror or a fake mirror selfie. Even frames might sometimes be indoor windows. Or mirrors with the mirror part punched out.
You wouldn’t need to pose in a mirror if someone is with you to take the photo. That person could just take the photo in front of you, and you could pose freely without the phone in-hand. And yet, it sort of makes sense to fake the shot when you think about it. They want something that seems casual and carefree. Mirror selfies often are more casual than posed shots! The format also allows people to hold their phone directly in front of their face, and with how massive phones are, that means the subject doesn’t have to go overboard on makeup to take a picture of their outfit. Good photography’s pretty hard. Good posing is a chore. Mimicking a mirror selfie is paradoxically easier than taking a regular photo!
Still. The idea itself is funny. It’s like if an alien from a planet where mirrors weren’t a thing tried to blend in with humans online by having its bro take a picture of it with its communications multi-tool in its hand. A totally alien interpretation of the pictures. Something an AI would come up with.
I’ve written articles on how selfies can turn dangerous before. Some critical disconnect between the danger present and the reward to be gotten for it leads people to dangerous stunts that they’d never dare without the camera, and sometimes they die as a result of those stunts.
Tragedies after the fact also end up in front of the camera due to that same disconnect. Bad car accidents. Municipal failures. Buildings literally on fire. All of these are things you’d normally take pictures of. However, you’d never turn the camera around and take a photo of yourself in front of these things, right? You’d never make someone else’s unrelated car accident about yourself? In a time where cameras weren’t everywhere, there was still such a thing as “a bad time to take a photo”, but now that cameras are everywhere, the odds that “bad timing” and “has a camera ready” sync up are much higher.
A hotel in Dubai caught fire, and a couple posed for a picture with it in the background. Instead of looking at the fire or taking a picture of the fire itself, the couple used it as a backdrop. I’m not suggesting they stop and help with the fire – that would be stupid and impossible. I’m suggesting maybe taking a picture and posting it without themselves in it, if they felt they had to document it. Nothing wrong with taking a picture of the incident – everything wrong with using it as a prop. Especially with two people smiling in front of it. Many of the people online agreed the picture was gauche, but it’s scary that in the moment they stopped, took the picture, and posted it, all without thinking that it might be gauche themselves.
California’s massive poppy fields are certainly picture worthy. Unfortunately, for some, documenting nature means destroying it. A superbloom of all sorts of wildflowers a couple of years ago attracted thousands of people to an otherwise unremarkable town in California, Lake Elsinore. Superblooms only happen about once every ten years, because they require steady rainfall and good temps to achieve. Most visitors do their best to stay on the trail and respect the flowers… many more do not, and end up stepping on them to get their photos before leaving.
Brief moments of self-awareness riddle interviews in an article about the fields, sudden realizations that they’re stepping on the less-pretty flowers to get to the pretty ones near the middle, thereby making those ones less pretty too. Official trails are criss-crossed by unofficial ones. Realizations that come too late or too quietly for them to take heed and pay for an entry ticket or stay on the path – some even complain about ‘poppy activists’ telling them not to damage the flowers. The same flowers they’re allegedly celebrating in these pictures. The same flowers allowing them the photos in the first place.
Many think their single photo op isn’t going to tip the scales. It likely won’t, in all honesty. The issue is that most people think like that. They assume someone else is looking out for the poppy fields, that the next person won’t walk down the same path they took and sit on the same crushed flowers they did to take an identical photo with themselves as the subject, showcasing the beauty of nature. Irony.
This isn’t new or exclusive to selfies. Early explorers thought the Dodo bird couldn’t go extinct because their God wouldn’t allow it. “Why, they argued, would an all-powerful God doom some of his valuable creations to such a fate?” (BBC.com). It boils down to the same argument as the poppy fields: ‘someone else with more power is looking after these specimens and will protect them from my impulses’. Nature is powerful. Park management can prevent a lot. But humans have hands and cameras.
Be-All End-All Selfie Culture
We understand how turning tragedy, the environment, and other people into background props is ultimately a bad thing for empathy, because narcissists do it all the time. There’s a vital disconnect in bits of a narcissist’s brain that prevent them from feeling empathy the way they should, so everything that goes wrong or right for their circle of people is always framed around themselves. When a narcissist goes to get help and tries to practice empathy, they often have to do it intellectually, by force, because what comes naturally to others doesn’t for them, even if they understand that it’s causing rifts in their relationships.
However, manufactured narcissism is great for social media. Social media encourages the exact opposite of treatment, tells people that it is all about you, which is only true because social media makes it that way. Social media is all about the individual. “Oh, this building is on fire? Great selfie opportunity”. “Surely my picture of the poppy fields won’t hurt. It’s just one more.” “Ooh, a concert. I should bring a bright light with me into this intentionally darkened room so my livestream followers will still be able to see my face.” The subtext for all of these is that the selfie-taker views themselves more important than the ‘background props’. Social media in small doses is entertaining! In large doses, it’s bad for you.