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Jim Mullen: Selfies for posterity

Jim Mullen • May 17, 2018 at 9:00 PM

I’ve been traveling for the past few weeks, trying to cross a few things off my bucket list. Things like “find the Fountain of Youth,” “find a new imaginary friend,” “reconcile with family (but not Bob),” “visit a bunch of famous places that are so packed with tourists that all you see is other tourists.”

I’ve learned that people don’t travel now to see famous attractions or to learn more about them. No, the reason they pack four oversized bags, buy a plane ticket and take a taxi to a Wonder of the World is for the sole purpose of taking pictures of themselves in front of it. 

As if having your face in the photo will somehow improve the overall look of the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon.

And there’s an entire process to it. First, you must position yourself looking away from the attraction, then you hold your phone arm out as far as it will go, knocking out anyone walking nearby. Then you snap your selfie and walk away. No, just kidding. You then look at the picture you just took, play with your hair, consider the angle and the lighting and do it again. Wait, somebody walked behind you; let’s try that again. Now let’s try it again with a friend. Or two. Then you send the picture to your friend who was standing right next to you. 

Now multiply this scene by a thousand or two. Add a few thousand selfie-sticks, and there you have the modern tourist experience: being clubbed to death by other tourists. Which will, of course, be filmed by hundreds of other tourists, and who knows? Your ugly death may go viral. Sheer karmic gold.

Sure, tourists have taken pictures ever since the portable camera came along, but taking pictures today is a much, much different experience. And, it seems there’s a much different motive behind it. There’s a feeling out there now that the whole point of doing anything is to take a picture of it, to record it. “This is me at my birthday party at a restaurant” is now “This is me getting my morning coffee at the drive-thru,” followed by a vulgar emoticon. Thanks so much for sharing.

If you are just taking a selfie to prove you were there, what does that say about your friends? If they’re not going to take your word for it, maybe you should be looking for new ones. Some think they’re taking it for the memories. Do you really think you’re going to forget that you flew to France, got from the airport to your hotel, walked to the Eiffel Tower and even stood in line to go to the top? If you did all that, I bet you can remember how hot or cold it was, how long or short the line was, all the different languages that you heard, all the street food cooking around you, the pesky scammers who ask you where the Eiffel Tower is -- and when you tell them they’re standing under it, they are so grateful that they have a real leather coat to sell for just “$20 U.S.,” which is the European version of “it fell off the truck.” 

Heck, I can remember all of it and I wasn’t even there.

I think we’re lucky the camera phone wasn’t invented thousands of years ago. Yes, it’d be nice to have documentary photos of historic events, but if we took them with today’s mindset, we’d have to look at the bizarre spectacle of Brutus’ smiling face while his friends finish off Ceasar in the background. Or a wide-eyed close-up of one of the spectators while Anne Boleyn has her head on the block. 

You’d be able to see everything BUT the really interesting stuff. 

“Can you see that little speck behind me? That’s Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount. Doesn’t my hair look good? I braided it that very morning!”

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.

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