I have a theory about “selfies”.
But first, a confession: I have more than my fair share of self-portraits snapped with some forward-facing camera, and I sincerely hope no one ever happens upon any of my mobile devices. It’s truly embarrassing how many pictures of myself I have. Although I (for the most part) have not broadcast my catalog of selfies on social media, I am not exempt from the critiques leveraged against selfie culture.
I would like to suggest an explanation of selfies that extends beyond the typical, “millenials are narcissists” explanation.
I think we, as humans, have a deep need to see ourselves. I do not mean a need to literally see ourselves, as in a mirror; I mean a need to observe who/how/what we are more wholly. We want to be able, even if for a moment, to objectively observe our selves. To see our selves as others, perhaps, see us. Now, mystics and spiritual folk have been known to meet this need through meditation. Through meditation, they quiet the mind and create enough distance to watch their thoughts pass through the mind, which happens on a different level than just thinking thoughts with the mind. They also face themselves and the substance of their souls: intentions, desires, hurts, etc. This process can be an incredibly elevating, transformative, and productive practice.
So, what does meditation have to do with selfies?
Well, I think that the proliferation of selfies evidences our deep need to see ourselves. However, without the tools or discipline to do the more substantive work of self-reflection, we settle for the substitution of self-portraits. For reasons we can not explain, we delight in seeing ourselves. And yet, our appetite for selfies never seems satisfied. Maybe that’s because pictures I take of myself will never actually show me what it is I truly want to see: who I am.