The 2013 phenomena which reveals a lot about ourselves!
The self-portrait is nothing new: Van Gogh found the time to paint thirty of them. A certain artistic talent was essential to achieve this (which I know I don’t have!), but, perhaps more significantly, considerable time was needed too. You cannot paint them in an instant.
But why do we engage in this peculiarly modern phenomenon?
Of course, we now have the technology, which helps. Picture-taking was revolutionised with the advent of digital cameras (so non-photographers like me can take lots of snaps and then select the best ones). But with a smart phone in our pockets, every moment can be captured in an instant – and uploaded for all to see.
Several British newspapers have picked up a piece of research pointing out that Facebook is becoming passé for teenagers with a friend-request from your Mum facilitating a hasty exit! (See). Instead, it seems, they prefer Instagram and Snapchat. The latter being particularly helpful because, once sent, the image is only viewable for a matter of seconds – any incriminating evidence can soon disappear! (see)
What does my selfie say about me?
Please like me?
Is the selfie a desire for approval? I think that this is part of the attraction. How many “likes” will I get? I, for one, am glad that Facebook didn’t introduce a “dislike” button! For many people, perhaps particularly teens, our sense of self-worth is tied up with a feeling that I am “liked” by others.
Is this who I am?
At one level our identity is found – not online, nor in a virtual world – but in who we are as individual people. Both Cicero and Shakespeare thought that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” My face is uniquely me – like it or not!
Am I my public face?
Inevitably, the selfie is a pose. “This is the picture of me which I would like you to see rather than the images which you might already have of me.” Quite wise: I am glad that all the Christmas snaps of me have not appeared in public! Nevertheless the selfie is a projection. And, of course, true beauty and worth lies beneath the skin.
What does the selfie tell me about my desire to be “liked” by God?
We will see His face
God lives in unapproachable light; no one can see him and live (1 Tim 6:16; Exod 33:20). But, God has “shown his face”, so to speak, in the incarnation (Jn 1:14) and, Jesus promises that the pure in heart will see God (Matt 5:8).
Sin separates me from God and makes me self-absorbed. However, when I am in a restored relationship with God I long for him and his glory far more than for the approval of other people. Back in the 1970s Paul Vitz wrote of the danger of narcissism and self-absorption. He spoke about the hallmark of the modern age in his ground-breaking book “Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship”. The selfie is very much image of today. It says a lot about our desire to be liked, but this desire will only find fulfilment as we seek His face.