There’s something happening to people, it’s terrifying and I can’t imagine it’s going to reverse itself before it becomes something ingrained and intrinsic in our social evolution. After a terrific five day trip to NSW and a trek along it’s associated tourist circuit, I’ve come to fear one thing more than anything in my life….the selfie.
Everywhere i went; the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Blue Mountains and even the resident train station magpie, there were people taking snaps. All of these terrific photographic subjects destroyed by someone thinking their face is more interesting to look at it. It’s almost as interesting as it is concerning when you see hundreds of people taking photo after photo of themselves in front of these dramatic and breathtaking feats of nature and mankind without ever actually taking the time to soak in the scene with the lenses of their eyes instead of through the narrow periscope of their own narcissistic need to illustrate to people that they have indeed been there.
I walked through the Blue Mountains National Park, enjoying the natural riches on offer here with the ultimate reward to be the view across the Jamison Valley and the ancient Three Sisters rock formations. However, once i emerged sweaty and slightly perturbed by the endless ascension of steps and onto the viewing platform for this long treasured view, i was greeted by something that left me feeling empty and confused. While the view is truly one of genuine beauty, lush green rainforests carpeted the undulating valley floor for as far as they eye could see with savage and prodigious sandstone cliff faces tearing shreds through the delicate fabric of the canopy. As beautiful as this was, my eyes and thoughts were unfortunately snagged by something more depraved, they were anchored towards the number of people on the viewing platform. More specifically the number of people with DSLR cameras, GoPros and IPhones taking photos – not of the scene of unsurpassed natural beauty playing out behind them – but of their own heads. I will never understand it and I don’t care who you are, no human face can surpass the aesthetics of the natural world. I walked amongst these people, my own camera in hand, primed to take some photos of the valley when i was drawn to do something else, something equal parts voyeur, inquisitor and sociologist – i started taking photos of people taking photos of themselves.
Inexplicably, i witnessed people who would simply walk down to the platform only to turn their back on the wondrous playground of natural beautiful sitting quietly before them. They would then pull out all manner of cameras with sticks attached, ensuring their hair looked great, the sun struck their complexion in the most aesthetic manner before smiling and taking a series of glutinous and mundane portraits of their forced grins before being loaded up and primed to fire off into the social media stratosphere. Presumably to ignite a frenzy of digital attention KPI’s and to ensure their friends knew they had been to (but not actually experienced) the Three Sisters.
Being someone who dabbles in photography occasionally, I understand these sentiments might be hard to stomach coming from me. I do post photographs on social media for business purposes, and the reason is to illustrate to my online community that I’m an active participant in my craft. It might also be the unconscious desire to show people that I’m interesting and that I’m attempting to find my identity through the knowledge that other people know I’ve been doing cool things. Having said that, whenever I go somewhere such as the Blue Mountains I will always take the time to experience it, to let it’s sheer power as an event in my non digital life envelope me for even the smallest moment, to wash away all the other bullshit, however momentarily. This is what I feel is being lost through the cascade of selfies, the power of the moment when you place your hands against the rail and peer out into the abyss of a natural wonder. When you slice off all the extraneous baggage that clouds our thoughts and simply sit quietly and watch as nothing happens in a basket of supreme natural artistry all your stresses drain away like soup down a plug hole, even if it’s just for a split second.
It’s become the done thing in society now, the selfie, and it’s lasting impact on youth culture isn’t something that has been truly empirically examined yet, but I’m sure that in years to come there will be suffocating amounts of evidence to point to how harmful this toxic means of experiencing and subsequently displaying our realities really is. Radhika Sanghani of The Telegraph wrote of teenagers that ‘they can’t escape selfies, and they feel they need ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and ‘favourites’ on their pictures to feel that they are interesting.’ This sentiment speaks to what I mentioned off the top – is the fact that we now forge and find our identities through the increasingly distorted and fragmented prism of social media going to become an automated means of operating in our society? Sanghani goes on to say ‘It is a terrifying thought that young people measure their self-worth in terms of ‘likes’ on their selfies, but it is a 21st century reality.’ I don’t think this experience is specific to teenagers either, I believe anyone who uses social media channels such as Facebook, feel strangely affected by the need to receive ‘likes’, something that is literally of no substance but one that so many people are strong armed by. The selfie epidemic is not isolated to our youth, it has drip fed itself into the cultural zeitgeist where it has dropped anchor with no intention of heading quietly out to sea any time soon.
This startling reality is laid bare for all to see (via social media), and it’s telegraphing a future in which peoples experiences are becoming increasingly filtered through the desire to document and show other people en mass. This is evident in other places such as music gigs and cafes and, like I’ve said, I find this phenomenon to be as intriguing as it is disconcerting. There’s no doubting that seeing a small red dot appear like a sore on your Facebook browser to indicate a ‘like’ does illicit a special feeling. It sends a pinch a serotonin inking through your neurological pathways and it’s obvious that a lot of us are now chasing that feeling – as opposed to that which you get from truly experiencing a place, a time or an individual moment.