Rushing through Times Square a few weeks ago, a promotional van for Zoolander 2 caught my eye. They were taking photos and printing them onto froth foam, creating headshot-worthy lattes and as if free java with your face on it isn’t enough, they gave me a bonus selfie stick! I have made fun of the ridiculous looking tool ever since they invaded my Wall Street neighborhood six years ago. Tourists and locals alike became all important documentarians and their sticks disrupted my view of everything.
I folded the metal extendable bar into my purse (it fit!) and focused on potential benefits of capturing my family of four in a shot without asking a stranger to snap a blurry one. I showed off my selfie-stick to my sister via FaceTime. She laughed heartily as I extended the metal rod to its full length and my whole apartment became visible behind me. Also, she noted, from such an angle and height, look at how tall and slim I look. (Kim K, I know your secrets.)
So what’s next? A lens attachment for my phone? Better yet, one of those lights which give you the perfect selfie blowout.
We had cameras, then we had digital cameras, and then we had phones with cameras on them and then we had phones with cameras so good we replaced our actual cameras. Only then we realized the phone cameras weren’t actually as good as the real camera so we now we add new things to our old things to make them function like the original thing we replaced.
Also, never before has a culture been so consumed with how we look in photos – because we know they are immortalized in digital pixels forever stored in a digital yearbook (and server in the Philippines).
I don’t think our vanity and self-documentation-love is the most negative aspect of our culture. I’m all in favor of “if you’re doing something, you might as well do it as best as you can” and that permeates my dinner making, writing articles, and taking a selfie where I minimize my forehead wrinkles and laugh lines around my eyes.
In February I stumbled upon an art exhibit in Times Square of larger-than-life-sized mirrored golden faceted hearts. They reflected the infamous Times Square signs and lights, adding our inverse image to the swirling symphony surrounding the heart circle. I am always fascinated by Hearts Everywhere so naturally I was drawn right to the center where I began taking a picture. My joy must have manifested itself physically, because before I knew it, there was a microphone and camera on my face.
I thought they would ask me about hearts, and their intense reflection on Times Square, how they multiplied the digital billboards infinitely, how this magical piece of art glistened in the midst of the busy hub.
Instead, they asked me what I thought about public displays of affection (all for it) and my opinion on how most spectators seemed to be consumed with taking photos only of themselves. As it turned out I had not yet found myself in the yellow mirrors. I had not seen them as selfie devices.
I’ve reflected on the moment, wishing I had a do-over. What I would have said is…I think the greatest aspect of taking photos of ourselves is not the lasting image, but the lasting memory. When we freeze life in an image, we forever can come back to it, remember who we were in the moment we paused life. When I take a picture I inadvertently think “This may not be the best you look but this is the youngest you’ll ever be.” So snap away, who cares if you have to buy an external brain to hold your memories eternally, they’ll be there when you forget how good your life looked.