History lesson: Phones have not always had built-in cameras.
While that may seem obvious to many of us, when I say this to my children, I might as well be talking about the cotton gin.
Also, just a few years ago, the word “selfie” didn’t exist. Today, it would be difficult to find someone in America who doesn’t know what a selfie is.
We did occasionally take photos of ourselves, mostly by setting up a camera with a timer so we could run back into the frame.
Some people might have held a camera at arms length to take a photo, but that’s not particularly practical when you have to send your film to be developed before you can see how your “selfie” turned out. (Explain that process to your kids some time.)
Today, selfies are commonplace. Thanks to social media, we may see more selfies on any given day than any other form of photograph.
So, what might our selfies actually be saying about us?
Recently, a friend asked me to select from a group of photos of her sister. She simply wanted to know which one I liked best.
For the most part, all the photos were similar, but one photo that seemed to stand out from the rest. The choice was easy, but explaining why was not so easy.
What made this photo the best? The quality of each was fine. They were all in focus and reasonably well lit, although some of them were at odd angles.
And, then it clicked. (So to speak…)
All the other photos were selfies, and in the non-selfie photo, it was the smile. The smile in the best photo was natural, relaxed, and happy; all things that a smile should be.
The smiles in the selfies looked like smiles, but they were neither natural nor relaxed, which ultimately made them seem not happy.
In the selfies, her eyes never looked like they were smiling.
Then, I went home and looked at some of my own recent photos, including photos taken of me and selfies.
The differences were stark. Consistently, selfies show me with that same artificial smile.
More accurately, it shows me struggling to maintain that smile while juggling my camera/phone.
It is the smile of a person trying to be in two places at once, and trying to capture a genuine smile with a selfie is like a cat chasing its tail.
A selfie is by definition self-directed, in practice, it becomes self-centered, and at worst becomes self-absorbed.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a selfie is like writing the word “me” a thousand times.
Pointing the camera in creates a feedback loop; pointing the camera out opens our eyes to the world around us.
Best of all, putting the camera down restores us as participants in the moment. It’s understandable to want to capture a moment, but a moment is much happier being lived than being caught.

Manuel Alvear is many things – among them a Texan, a father, and a longtime journalist. If you want him, you can find him – on the opinion page of the Burleson Star.

Burleson Star

327 N.W. Renfro St.
PO Box 909
Burleson, TX 76028-0909

Phone: 817-295-0486
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