Written by Karen Kwek, Singapore
Here I am in Peru—see the Machu Picchu ruins in the background? This is me again, rocking it at a concert. And here I am, about to tuck into a huge roasted pork knuckle. And here, fresh out of the salon chair—check out my new haircut!
To be sure, self-portraits aren’t new. But the smartphone with a self-facing camera has made them unprecedentedly easy—everyone is just a click away from Instagram stardom or a gazillion Facebook “likes”. And they’re not just busy taking selfies of themselves: They’ve also been busy talking about them. After becoming the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2013, the word “selfie” made it into the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014. Love it or hate it, the selfie is here to stay.
Gone are the days of setting up a timed shot and racing to your spot ahead of the blinking red light. Gone are the blurred or thumb-in-frame shots, taken when you couldn’t see what you were taking. Also gone: The hassle of dragging yourself to the photo studio for a mugshot. Now there are phone apps with guides showing you where to position your head and shoulders, so that you can take your official-purpose photo yourself! And retake it until your smile is perfect. Throw in that popular accessory known as the selfie stick, and you don’t even need to have absurdly long arms or ask a stranger to take your holiday group photos, because—let’s face it—you don’t really want to return the favour.
Which brings me to an uncomfortable thought: Does the selfie reveal more about our generation than just our good side? A selfie tells a story, for sure. Its immediacy is unrivalled—I’m here! Now! But a story told in selfies has only one and the same focus—me. Everything else fades into the background. Does a life lived this way truly honour God?
You could argue that our devices are streaming so many feeds that we’ll see more than just our own selfies; we’ll also be seeing everyone else’s. But this, too, is alarming. In a world increasingly geared towards self-gratification, there’s the prospect of each of us becoming the centre of our own individual universes, isolating rather than connecting us.
John the Baptist was ahead of his time in knowing that the show wasn’t about him. The focus of all creation was really Jesus. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). Personally, I think I’m going to use that self-facing camera a little more sparingly. In my life’s documentary, may the focus be on God’s grace and work, and the people and relationships dearest to me—yes, without the glaring obstruction of my own headshot.