March 26, 2014
Depending on when you were born, you were either tagged Gen-X, the MTV generation, or, for those a bit younger, everything from Generation Y to the Millennial Generation. Wherever you may fall, the startling truth is that such categorizations place us in a pantheon which includes the Greatest Generation, who survived both the Great Depression and WWII, the Silent Generation, who picked up the pieces of a broken world while also fighting the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the Baby Boomers, who rebuilt the economy, changed the landscape of civil rights, and cultivated the brilliant minds who put computers in every home.
Me? I just Insta'd a pretty kick ass picture of a $4 cup of coffee, my friend. It was a pour over, hand crafted by a guy with unwashed hair and an important beard named Tre. I put that warm Amaro filter on it. Feigned sophistication at its finest. I might even snap a quick selfie of me actually drinking said $4 cup of coffee.
At this point you might be rolling your eyes, thinking, "Another cynical retort against the 'evils' of social media and what our digital devices are doing to young minds? No thanks, asshole. I'm out." Not quite. I'm actually here to say that there might be something subversively promising and redemptive about the generation we are a part of, even with all of our quirks, kinks, and potentially destructive tendencies.
I want to explore why our selfies matter.
There’s a real fear that the seismic shifts in technology we've experienced in the new millennia, and the speeds at which we've experienced them, are paving the way for a thoughtless, careless generation of narcissistic imbeciles who will leave behind anthologies of filtered Instagram photos [tattoos, colorful sushi spreads, duck-faced self portraits] and very little to nothing else. Blogger Mario Almonte wrote the other day that selfies, "in many ways are the ultimate expression of self-indulgence." He further warned us, "So, get ready for a generation raised to believe that they are the center of the universe, who believe that everything they do is of immense interest to the rest of the world." On one hand, Almonte is right. We are a self-indulgent people, paradoxically as full of ourselves as we are insecure. So we indulge in stupefying amounts so as to numb ourselves into a thick ignorance of our deep insecurities.
But upon closer look, we find that within this very critique lies the subversive promise of redemptive potential. If we believe that we are the center of the universe, what we will soon realize is that we includes the collective whole - everyone, anyone, the rich, the poor, the mesmerizing, the marginalized, the east, the west, every nook and cranny, crack and corner. Not any single one of us is the center of anything other than our own aging bodies. But we? We are a different story. We matter. We are able and strong and profoundly interesting - not because any one of us matters so much but because the messy mosaic of faces and stories and personalities that we call humanity is a beautiful thing. So if our selfies tell us anything, they tell us that we are incomplete alone, that we are all longing to belong, that our filters and angles are nothing more than a weak facade to tell the world what we want our lives to look like, not what they actually look like. Our selfies are caricatures and we all know it. And in our collective admission of this truth, we are like actors on a stage who have been re-enacting the same scene over and over, finally taking a deep breath and walking off stage together to be ourselves for the first time in a long time.
When we get honest with ourselves and with each other like this, we begin co-opting all the destructive byproducts of our generation for a better story. Social media, technology, and every single pixel we share can be used to connect us in ways that accentuate and celebrate our humanity. Many are doing this already, flooding the digital space with inspiring and thought provoking content, pushing things forward for the common good. I haven’t used a Microsoft product in years but I think they hit the nail on the head with their Super Bowl ad:
Technology has the power to unite us… it inspire us… it has given voice to the voiceless.
So yes, our selfies matter. They matter because they are the veneer and gloss covering the truly beautiful thing underneath. They matter because they tell me that there are others just like me, searching for a meaningful life, desperate to tell a story with their minutes and hours worth retelling. They matter because they are an invitation to become all that we are not yet. They matter because though we may currently be a generation who believe that everything they do is of immense interest to the rest of the world, there lies beneath that wreckage of falsehood the truth that we might one day become a generation who discovers that everything we do is of immense importance to the rest of us.