Selfie Day: Making a case for selfies


Selfie Day: Making a case for selfies

American photographer and lamp manufacturer Robert Cornelius took a selfie outside his lamp store in 1839.


Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Fri 21 Jun 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 28 Jun 2019, 9:34 AM

Who do you think clicked the world's first selfie? As a simple Internet search will tell you, it may just have been American photographer and lamp manufacturer Robert Cornelius, who took a picture of himself right outside his lamp store in Philadelphia way back in 1839. For Cornelius, taking a selfie was not as simple as it is for modern smartphone users. He took the self-portrait by getting rid of the lens cap and then "running into frame where he sat for a minute before covering up the lens again". There are two reasons why that trivia becomes important - one, it's only appropriate to revisit the genesis of the trend on Selfie Day, which happens to be today; second, those who are chided for taking selfies can take comfort in the fact that the seed for what is often considered "narcissistic" was sown at least 150 years ago.
Today, the world is largely divided between people who love selfies, those who cannot stand them and others who simply couldn't care less. The battle lines are clearly drawn between the first and the second tribe. However, once in a while, you may even find a selfie-hater ditching his tribe to either appear in someone else's self-portrait, or sneakily clicking one himself. The problem is when the same folk begin to see the very act of taking selfies as 'pomposity'. This scorn is often misplaced. All lives need a witness. Today, that witness is an inanimate object - your smartphone - and the photographs of our experiences are merely proof of us having been there and done that. As a climber, who scaled Mount Everest this year, told me, "You haven't reached the top of the world if you haven't clicked a selfie." (This year, the climbers at Everest were also seen pushing and shoving each other in their pursuit of a selfie, leading to chaos and overcrowding.)
So, why do people go to obnoxious lengths to click a selfie? Perhaps there is a sense of fulfilment in having an object of your admiration - be it a mountain or a monument - be dwarfed by your presence. It allows us, even if for a fleeting second, to be the leading ladies, or lads, of the stories we want to tell the world about ourselves. But the instinct that lies at the very heart of this indulgence is hardly new. Why else do we want our children to imbibe our values? Why do we like films that have either relatable characters or plots? Why do we attempt to spot ourselves in the books we read and people we meet? Because it makes us feel relevant to the world.
Most of what is widely considered 'good art' is also premised on deep love for oneself. An artist's self-portrait can be just as indulgent as a writer's autobiography. Both are, after all, rooted in the belief that one's story is greater than someone else's and deserves to be in the public eye. If that is indeed so, then what do we do with lives of those who are less than 'extraordinary' - people like you and me who are less likely to make history? Turn to our social media pages and document our lives, perhaps - and what better way of doing it than with a selfie?

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