I, like many others perhaps, used to be embarrassed to be seen stretching out my hand in order to take a photo of myself with my camera or my smartphone. I used to do it discreetly, and mostly hid the photos or deleted them, as if I was trying to conceal something I had done.
It is likely that I used to fear being “found out” for having taken photos of myself, and of being embarrassed by accusations of self-indulgence or of being a show-off, because I rarely published the photos.
That was my exact feeling up until a few weeks ago. Now, suddenly, a fever has spread throughout the world, a fever for “selfies” taken on smartphones, and published on social media websites.
It seemed that millions of people lost their inhibitions about their narcissism and vanity, and began to take large numbers of selfies, up to the point of self-obsession.
To realize the size of the phenomenon, it is enough to read a story a British newspaper published as a joke, in which it said the government was considering plans to introduce a limit on the number of selfies which one person can publish on a social media website.
Today, there is real confusion about the phenomenon and the excitement of those who are involved in it. The media is still following the story of a young British man who became addicted to taking selfies and neglected his studies and his health, up to the point that he almost committed suicide.
This young man is not alone in being addicted to this phenomenon, as the organic link between smartphones and social media websites is on the increase, and with it our relationship with ourselves and others.
However, narcissism is not the only factor we should look at when attempting to explain the phenomenon of the selfie. Here, it may be worthwhile to us who live in the Arab region to try to take advantage of this tool in how we express ourselves and our convictions, and how we defend them.
It is our fate to be part of a world full of undemocratic societies and regimes, and therefore it is imperative that we exploit every avenue to express ourselves, especially when the streets are threatened by the bullets of the regime or those of insurgents and troubled types.
This has happened!
Selfies have become part of electronic campaigns to fight racism, defend women’s rights, as well as other campaigns, such as encouraging the use of seatbelts while driving and to raise awareness of health issues.
The shouting in the streets has been replaced by shouting of another type: through selfies of individuals who decided to publicize an issue via slogans linked to images—and so we’ve ended up with a large number of images of protesters.
There is no doubt that the evolution of technology and the diligence in bringing new ideas will result in more avenues of expression. It is no longer useful to lament about the failure of traditional media. Whoever feels that they have something to say, there are many arenas open now for them to do so.
There is no problem in taking a selfie, but can we think a little more about adding meaning to it, to go beyond being fascinated by our looks . . . to something deeper?