I was listening to the Olympics and the above commercial played. It was, of course, selling the iPhone and using the ubiquitous selfie as the tool. The “spokesperson” for this effort is non other than the late Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time, but also one of the least humble people of all time – especially during his boxing career. I think Apple has, perhaps inadvertently, identified the most important aspect of the selfie, and thus identified its biggest problem. Every selfie we post is an exercise in self promotion. It is a demonstration of a lack of humility.
Now, of course, we all lack humility at times, and the posting of an occasional selfie may not be indicative of some serious spiritual malady, but I think the habit that many, especially our youth, have gotten into of constant posting of selfies leads to a habit of pride. The most popular social media outlets for youth (I believe) at the time of this posting are Instagram and Snapchat. Both of these largely invite selfies. Especially snapchat. We see a great many celebrities maintaining their fame via selfie, and a number of their fans follow suit, assuming that this is the new proper way to behave.
I’ve seen occasional articles arguing against smart phones, especially among youth. I’ve argued elsewhere that we may be looking at the topic incorrectly. I don’t think kids are being less social. While online bullying has certainly grown, I think that is a symptom of the underlying problem, not the problem itself. We see a great deal of good coming from the online experience, but where we see negative, it is undoubtedly pride that is underlying that problem. People are offended by those who disagree with them, they feel they have something useful to add on virtually every topic, and know better than those who disagree with them. Pride. Simple, nefarious, pride. Selfies are simplya more frequent demonstration of pride.
If you look at the Instagram feed of many girls from teenager to young adult, you will undoubtedly see a selfie, with a string of comments telling the poster how perfect, hot, beautiful, etc. they are. Their pride is being fed. Since we know what the reaction is going to be, one has to assume that anyone posting a selfie is, at least a little bit, looking for that reinforcement of their pride. When “Snapping” to one another, I doubt that we see those sorts of comments, but the snapper is still frequently taking pictures of themselves and sending them. They want just the right look, and are unhappy if the picture or video isn’t what they were looking for (retake, after retake, and occasional frustration when the picture isn’t right). Even complaints of being ugly come off more as complimenting fishing exercises (or disappointment that they aren’t as good looking as pride tells them they should be).
St. Timothy warns us of the way people will be in the last days. The first item on his list is love of self, the third is boastful, the fourth is proud. Do we see a pattern here? The Fathers refer to Pride as the mother of all sin.
There are those who take a fast from the internet or computers for part or all of Great Lent. I think that is fine if that works for them. In my job, that is decidedly not an option. For a great number of youth, we would be asking them to disconnect from their community. I’m not entirely sure that is the right idea. Perhaps, instead, we should challenge them to take a selfie fast. Instead of selfies when you are snapping to a friend, take a picture of a flower, your pet, a cloud outside. Anything but yourself or something you’ve made.
Someone who’s spiritual insights I respect has mentioned that he thinks there is more to the selfie than just pride. As I pondered that, I think one such thing is the sense of belonging. My wife mentioned to me this morning an article that girls are pressured into posting sexualized pictures of themselves. The “like” becomes a sort of validation of themselves, and solidifies their standing within their group. Man was created to be communal, and so it is inherent in our being to want to belong to a group. Over the years, this need to belong has been warped at times to the detriment of mankind. The mob mentality is such an example, whether it be the local mob, or the mob at a state level (think Nazi Germany, among many other examples). I think the selfie as the “like” become tools in the hand of the enemy to use the proper need to belong to a community and warp it into, yes, a source of pride, and, at the same time, a source of fear and despair. I realize I don’t have much of a following, but if you have insights to add, please do. I’ll ponder this some more and hopefully post some additional thoughts on the topic.