Are Selfies Selfish?

Posted in 2016 The Gnovis Blog

It’s common practice for an older generation to give the younger generation a hard time. The Boomers have by far gone above and beyond to make sure that everyone knows the awful norms of Millennials and “their” technology-driven culture (obviously no other generations engage in such activities). The chasm between these two cohorts is obvious and huge: if you grew up with the Internet and social media, you’re a Millennial. If not, you’re free from blame for widespread and normalized narcissism. You really dodged a bullet there.

If a Boomer can find a problem in modern society, they can find a way to pin the blame on Millennials. A faltered economy? An at-risk NFL? A lack of work ethic? Mental illness and A.D.H.D.? You name it, and a Boomer has probably blamed a Millennial. The one condemnation Millennials most often hear, however, is ruining the ability to engage in basic human interactions. In an age of obsessive Internet culture and social media norms, Millennials are criticized for not knowing how to speak up unless hiding from behind a keyboard (and even from behind the keyboard, they’re getting criticized for their acronyms and short-cut language). And for a long time, the Boomers were right.

In the foundational stages of social media, on archaic platforms like MySpace, AOL Instant Messenger, Xanga, or 4chan, the primary form of communication was through text, chat-lingo, and an array of fonts, colors, and altered capital-letter-to-lowercase-letter patterns. The opportunity to speak up without having to see a facial reaction and the chance to contemplate a  response before sending it made teens in the 2000s feel invincible. AIM chats and MySpace bulletin posts were great, but they didn’t last long for a reason.

The Boomers can argue that Millennials are monsters who do not value basic human interaction, whose biological and hormonal responses do not function similarly to those of other generations because we have been brainwashed and programmed by a JavaScript code, but the selfie phenomenon proves otherwise. Sure, it was fun for a while to hide behind a keyboard and communicate in this new world of technology, but the Internet did not take away from the basic connections that can only be formulated when interacting with eye contact.

Boomers can claim that selfies are narcissistic and vain, but in reality, Millennials have come full circle. The rise of the Internet in the early 2000s was a brief pause in the downfall of personal communication, but it got old quick, and now, social media is driven by the ability to see the other person with whom one is communicating. Snapchat’s incredible success has come from the basic desire to see and be seen. Texting does not show facial expression and does not hear the tone. Twitter and Facebook posts are bare without an attached photo or video, and Instagram is proof that a picture is worth a thousand words. The selfie is a phenomenon not based on narcissism but based on the fact that we love to see the faces of our loved ones. We crave eye contact, we crave face-to-face communication, and when that is not possible in a globalized society, well that’s why we have Skype and FaceTime.
Millennials have come full circle in recognizing that the genuine human experience cannot be feigned, it cannot be captured in a snap or described in 140 characters. I cannot speak on behalf of the younger generation, the Centennials, who do not know a world without selfies and technology, but Millennials are a unique transitional generation; growing up parallel to the technological revolution. For Millennials, if physicality is not possible, we seek out social media platforms that can get us as close to the real-life experience as possible. The selfie is as much for one’s self as it is for their loved ones, so tell me, Boomers, who are you calling selfish?