$Texas, Journalism, Me Myself and Ty

A selfish criticism of selfies

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I was on the edge of America with my parents when the mood struck.

Staring across the Rio Grande from the Sabal Palms Bird Sanctuary I thought about how silly the boundary was, how the river was nothing more than a river that humans assigned special meaning to for no reason other than to mark territory.

Oh and I thought about taking a selfie.

I had recently been trying to use Instagram more for photo uploads in an effort to make it seem like I’m not this boring old dude that doesn’t know how to use filters.

And in this day and age, being hip and using filters means using hashtags.

I quickly realized this was my first opportunity to use, for the first time, that hallowed hashtag above all others: the #selfie.

So as I plopped myself down looking north into the lens and at my reflection in my phone, I had already decided this would be my fine ascension into the world of #selfie stardom.

It was then that my mom offered to take the picture for me.

I declined and told her I was taking a selfie. She laughed and said she knew what a selfie was, assuring for me that the term has permeated my generation to the point that my mother knows what it is.

But what stuck with me, and still sticks with me, as that photo was being taken was the fact that I had shot down my mother’s attempt to be a part of that memory.

*

Whenever we vacationed, my mom was famous for offering to take pictures for people.

She was so well-known for it in my family that my dad would often point out opportunities for her to volunteer her time and my sister and I joined in.

If a family of four was trying to capture a moment at an amusement park, on the beach or anywhere we visited on vacation, my mother volunteered to help ensure that the entire family was in the picture.

I could cry just thinking about how many photographs throughout the years have been passed around families that unofficially carry my mother’s photo credit.

“Who took the picture?” I imagine them asking, to which those in the photograph would say “Some lady that was walking by.”

And because of her, the family photographers of hundreds of families (Either the mother who is overprotective with her camera or the dad who always insists on taking the photo because he secretly doesn’t like to have his picture taken) can now prove they were apart of the vacations they chronicled in film.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve followed my mother’s lead in this arena. The first time I was allowed to walk around Epcot myself I remember taking a photo for a family in front of the fountains. I was basically the hired photographer for at least one family on a cruise.

I have played the part of unofficial photographer a number of times, especially as I gleaned some camera skills from my newspaper career. It has, at times, been my icebreaker to talk to women I was interested in. I have used it as a tactic to strike up a conversation with someone who I wanted to ask for directions or other information. Most often, though, it was me just fulfilling a role I imagined that people like myself and my mother filled — that of a gratuitous photographer who was always willing to snap a photo of the whole family.

*

I took the photo myself and uploaded it without much thought, until later in our journeys I saw a couple attempting to take a picture of themselves in front of something.

The woman had a great method for holding the camera at a perfect angle to capture both her and her significant other’s face. It required her to contort her arm in a twisted way that I recognized as that learned technique which some of my girlfriends in the past have mastered.

As the urge to offer my services leaped up into my throat, I remembered what had transpired at the river just hours before: I had elected for the selfie angle in an effort to look cool.

In that moment, I couldn’t even embrace one of the kind qualities of my mother that I admire most for want of using that hashtag. Why, then, would this couple appreciate the insertion of a bearded blonde male into their happy memory?

In the years of family vacations, Facebook was a faraway concept, either because it had not yet been invented or it was confined only to laptops. In that time, photos were supposed to be mostly background, with faces taking up just enough space so that you could remember who was there.

The focus was on where the photo was being taken just as much as who was there. It mattered that you were in the photo. If someone was in a photo that you didn’t want to be there, you had to either cut them out or leave them in. It was a bigger deal to crop someone out of a picture before it was as easy as just dragging the margins.

Is this a pining for days when photographs were printed and framed? You would like to read it that way, wouldn’t you?

It’s not.

This is just me acknowledging the passing of an era. Gone are the days when a passerby’s offer to take a photo of you out of the kindness of her heart was a meaningful gesture. The social acceptance of a the photo composition known as a selfie (Like Figure 1-A above where a big head blocks out almost all of the beautiful scenery) has cast those days into the dustbin of social history.

Will scholars in the future ever appreciate the courtesy my mother performed for others once technology makes it archaic; like automatic doors have nearly eliminated the selfless gesture of holding one open for another?

“Who cares,” I guess, is the best answer to that question.

And the best response to that superlative answer will always be “At least me.”

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