Selfies have taken over our lives, we're losing it

How far would you go for that perfect shot that hides your blemishes?

By Shalini Verma

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Published: Mon 10 Jun 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 10 Jun 2019, 10:25 PM

Last week, I was strolling on a beach in India enjoying the red sun setting against a gently rising sea. But I was even more struck by the multitude of people lined up along the beach, staring at their smartphones, engrossed in taking selfies. The sunset hardly mattered. Their beach outing was pretty much designed around selfies.
Ever since smartphones gave us the front-facing camera, selfies have taken over our lives.
But the selfie genre of photos predates the smartphone when we stood before a mirror to take a self-portrait photo. In 2010, the iPhone 4 turned selfies into a global pastime, with a little help from photo-sharing apps like Instagram and Snapchat that encouraged people to share their selfies. Today, selfies have evolved into a social norm, and even a hobby, sometimes the only one we have.
As a result, selfies have found their place at the most mundane and the most bizarre occasions. At the airport in my home town, passengers who get off a plane are in no rush to get off the tarmac. They must first take the ritualistic selfie with the plane, while the relatives in the waiting area are wondering what is taking them so long. The selfie takes precedence over all else.
The question is how far would you go for that perfect selfie? Are you the kind who always remembers to take that celebratory selfie after dinner with friends? There is the peer pressure from your Whatsapp group to deal with - if you didn't take a selfie at an occasion, did it even happen? If nature equipped you with long arms then you know that you are the chosen one - the designated selfie stick for the group. It is possible that obituaries of the future will include among other glories, the recognition that the deceased was "the best selfie taker of the family". 
You could be the one who takes dozens of selfies with your friend but chooses to post the one photo in which you look like a model while your unsuspecting friend looks like a dysfunctional doll of the 80s with one eye shut and the other staring. Are you the one who takes selfies in the private space of your car as you dangerously veer off your lane, confounding other drivers?
You could be the daredevil who stands on railway tracks and takes a selfie with a fast approaching train. Sometimes, tragically the train gets the better of you as you get immortalised by your final selfie.
Apart from the radical selfie masters who risk getting run over by cars or almost tip over cliffs while taking selfies, the rest of us are still learning how to balance the phone and click the camera button with one hand, while striking the perfect pose, which hides all the quirks that nature bestowed on us. For those who were born too early or skipped the class on selfies, despair not. You could be the friend who plays the important supporting role of the human prop in selfies.
A friend of mine has a more profound take on selfies. He sees selfies as a movement of self-expression. The saying beauty lies in the eye of the beholder still holds true, except that the beholder and the "beholdee", the artist and the subject, are one and the same. Perhaps we are on a quest for that timeless selfie that Plato would call the 'Form' - a blueprint of perfection of the self, while we in our physical embodiment remain mere imitations of that ultimate selfie.
But for those who are sitting on the fringes of the great selfie movement, it seems like a pointless indulgence in vanity, like our lives will amount to a sum total of all our selfies. We are quick to judge this self-absorbed tendency in others but see our own selfies as a celebration of life.
For the large majority of people in developing countries whose first and perhaps only experience of the Internet is on a low-end phone that barely passes off as a smartphone, the selfie is an escape from their harsh economic reality. Selfies tinted with filters give them a momentary sense of well-being before they are sucked back into their daily drudgery.
A selfie is not just a pretty face but a composition of what we want to be or ought to be. It defines our relationship with the world around us in a metaphysical sense. Millennials see this as building their personal brand and donning the mantle of a social influencer. There's money to be made as the number of followers grow. Selfies allow millennials to add that filter of confidence that carries them through life's uncertainties.
I am tempted to think about what brought the selfie culture upon us. Was this a collective impetus to unleash creative energies of the growing population of digital natives or our growing inability to establish a deep meaningful relationship with the world around us? Perhaps this was inevitable - a logical culmination of our growing consumerism that values the self over everything else.
Shalini Verma is CEO of PIVOT technologies

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