Sunday, April 5, 2015

The case for selfies

The early 21st century will be known for many things, and certainly one of those things is the proliferation of the selfie. Selfie is a term given to pictures that a person takes of themselves. Although selfies were possible with even the earliest cameras, the existence of phone cameras in recent history has caused selfies to become commonplace.

The need to establish ones presence in a place, or with other people, dates to thousands of years ago. Early humans left their mark in caves all over the globe, depicting successful hunts, battles, and even everyday life. The picture here shows a cave in which young teenagers felt a need to record their presence in the form of hand sillouettes.

The human need to say "I was here" is unquestioned. Over the last few years, however, the use of selfies to make that statement has been criticized by many.

My post today is the result of a revelation I had recently regarding the existence of, or lack of, selfies.

A little over a year ago, one of my daughters, who had completed her first year in a sorority, was excited for me to visit on Mom's Day. Leading up to the day, her sorority busily prepared for the activities that moms and daughters would participate in throughout the day. One of the activities was a nice luncheon and the girls decorated their tables with pictures of themselves as babies with their mothers. I sat at a table with my daughter and realized that there were no pictures of us. When I asked her about it, she said she could not find any and I realized that there were none to find. Throughout her young life, I was always the one behind the camera. Nobody had ever taken pictures of us together, and I didn't ever think to take a selfie with my 110 camera.

We took lots of pictures that day and I have made a point to take pictures with all of my children since then, but they will never have proof of my participation in their infancy in the form of a photograph.

I understood the importance of photographs then, but didn't fully realize what a difference the existence of selfies can make until two weeks ago, when I traveled to Kansas to visit my sister, who is in the end stages of liver failure.

As I sat in her hospital room and watched her sleep, I realized how much I wanted a picture of my sister and I together. Not one the way we are today - I have one of those - but rather, I wanted to be able to see a picture of us together when we were young, watching movies, riding bicycles, and laughing. Realizing that there were none from our youth, I decided I would settle for pictures from our two experiences bicycling across the state of Kansas, then realized that she was always behind the camera then and the only pictures I had of those experiences included myself and her husband, or the whole group of us - not her and I. I can look at those pictures and remember, but there is nothing that says "Bev and Elaine were sisters, together."

I have pictures of her at my wedding. Pictures of her with her children. Pictures of her when we were young, but nothing that depicts the joyful existence of our relationship over the years as sisters.

Some would say that I still have my memories of those times, but experience tells me that the existence of photographs helps us to remember events that our brains would otherwise file away as unimportant. Selfies capture moments. Moments that are often a part of the mundane, as well as those events with high meaning. I long to see photos of my sister and I simply being sisters - that majority part of our lives together which did not cause my long-term memory to engage - that which encompasses the day-to-day and is the most authentic part of our lives together.

I understand why people get annoyed with the overabundance of selfies posted on social media. I'm okay with scrolling past them and I hope you will be, too.