Adjusting Our Focus

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s “Word of the Year” for 2013 was selfie. Familiar with the word? It’s an informal word–I would even go so far as to say slang–for a picture taken of oneself, most often with a smartphone, and usually to be shared on a social media site. If you’re on social media at all you have no doubt seen a selfie. For some time they often involved taking a picture of oneself in a mirror. The now ubiquitous camera feature on cell phones and other mobile devices, however, has led to the all-too-frequent image of people extending one arm out as far from themselves as possible in order to take their own picture with the device. The advent of self-facing camera features now means that smartphone users can see themselves on the screen before taking the picture, presumably making it even easier to take smashing selfies.

If you’re at all like me, you find most selfies to be rather silly. Selfies have replaced the status updates and tweets of old that informed the world of mundane and useless drivel about people’s everyday activities. Remember when people used to post or tweet things like, “Making lunch!” or “Just left the dentist.” Frankly, I don’t really care. Now, however, we do not have to read about it because with selfies we can actually see people engaged in mundane everyday activities. Somehow this doesn’t strike me as progress….

Full disclosure, I have never taken a selfie. I have, however, appeared in one or two with other folks who wanted (believe it or not) to take a picture of themselves with me.

Silly though they may be, however, I would ordinarily resist any temptation to write an entire blog post about the topic of selfies. But there is more to them than just silliness and nonsense, and I want to explore that just a bit. More specifically I want to elaborate on some comments made by Janie B. Cheaney about selfies.

She opines, “Most selfies are arranged to make the subject look good, but not always–the subject can look goofy, slutty, or pie-eyed depending on the photographer’s mood. The unflattering ones mystify: Why would you want to post or send a picture of yourself looking like a goon or a porn star?” Good question. Sadly, I think the answer to that question is the same, or at least has the same root, as the answer to the question of why in the world Miley Cyrus decided to twerk on stage with a big foam finger (Twerk, by the way, being a runner-up for Word of the Year). She wanted to simultaneously demonstrate that she was not bound by anyone else’s expectations of who she is or what she should do and and achieve attention through shock value. Cyrus’s twerking and many people’s, shall we say odd, selfies are both means of announcing to the world that they could care less what anyone else thinks. They will do their own thing, thank you, and if you don’t like it you can take a hike. In other words, if you’ll pardon the expression, a lot of selfies are the subjects’ 21st-century version of giving everyone else the finger.

Cheaney makes another pertinent observation, too, though. She writes, “The selfie permits posing on a grand scale, and every tweeted image seeks an audience among our peeps: Here’s me. How do I look? What do you think?” For every person who posts selfies in order to tell the rest of the world to shove it there is at least one more who posts selfies in order to ask the rest of the world for approval and praise. The selfies become a by-the-photo meter of acceptance.

Cheaney wraps up her column by bringing God’s plan into the discussion. “God made our eyes to look outward,” she writes, “but our vision boomeranged when we took our eyes off Him.” Selfies, in other words, have become for many the modern equivalent of the pond in which Narcissus gazed at his own reflection. So enamored was he with his own reflection that he eventually died. So fixated are many today on showing off their whatever to the rest of the world that they fail to even notice the rest of the world. They are quite wrapped up in their own little world, and the universe, they think, revolves around it. As sad as that skewed focus is, far sadder is the fact that they also fail to notice the Creator of the world, the One who spoke it into existence and who keeps it spinning in place. The One who gave His only Son to die in their place so that their identity could be found in Him. It’s time we pry our focus off of ourselves, and cast our eyes on Him.

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