“Time for another selfie.”
These words stopped me in my tracks as I was wandering through the aisles of my local Bed Bath & Beyond. They were painted on a piece of colorful canvas, sold as wall art in the home décor section. Dozens of other customers walked by the framed piece, not noticing it; their lack of interest seemed to me to be just one more sign that selfies have become engrained in our culture, our way of thinking, our way of living. That quote may seem innocent enough to some—just a cute and very up-to-date expression to hang in a young person’s college dorm room or new apartment. It’s anything but that, however.
And as I stood there with my mouth open, staring at the frame, I thought about what a statement it made—and not a very good one. After all, I have a hard enough time being selfless and not getting caught up in my own heart’s desires as well as everyday concerns, and I am a person with a pretty strong faith. I also have a built-in accountability system with a network of solid Christian friends, coworkers, and family.
So if believers like me still struggle with regularly trying to “decrease so God can increase,” as St. John the Baptist reminds us, how much more difficult is it for nonbelievers and fallen-away Catholics (whose numbers happen to be increasing steadily)? Selfies, of course, aren’t the root cause of the many problems in our lives and our society. I’m sure you’ll agree, however, that pride and selfishness certainly rank pretty high up there in the trouble-causing category. Selfies are a by-product of a world that has come to place autonomy, personal satisfaction, and instant gratification above all else.
Let’s imagine a young, impressionable person seeing “Time for Another Selfie” several times a day. Doesn’t it reinforce an “It’s all about me” attitude? That so-called home décor, along with some other selfie-related incidents that have occurred in my work and travels recently, got me thinking about the reason for and the fall-out from the world’s fascination—and my own fascination, quite frankly—with capturing just about every day-to-day activity and posting, tweeting, and pinning it for all the world to see. As a media person who is often in the spotlight, I recognize the importance of keeping websites and social media pages interesting, up to date, and even personal on some level. It’s all about connecting with people, or so we’ve convinced ourselves.
However, given the growing focus on instant personal gratification, I’m wondering if the “selfie syndrome” is a sign of something much deeper…and more troubling. Could it be that our obsession with technology reveals a weakening, and in some cases even a rejection, of what it means to be Christian? What impact do those tech ties have on one’s own faith? What impact is it having on family relationships and friendships? Even though I write and speak about media influence regularly, my husband has noticed that, at times—when we’re in the car, for example—I am paying more attention to my phone than to him. What does that say about what is most important to me? As believers we are called to lay down our lives for God and each other.
The Power of J.O.Y.
Christianity is all about going beyond ourselves order to live a new, more fulfilling life on earth, make a difference in the lives of others, and culminate (God willing) with an eternity in heaven. If we’re preoccupied with self, there is little room for true JOY—as in, Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.
An increasing amount of research shows how greatly we are impacted by our media- and selfie-saturated culture. If the tech-obsessed culture is affecting the life of a Catholic talk show host and media expert, what about the average person out there who isn’t familiar with God? As I pondered this question, I began to notice the obsession with selfies more and more. And as I continued researching this topic, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one worried about where the selfie trend is taking us.
There is now a large body of evidence (not to mention plenty of shocking headlines) showing the connection between selfie obsession and a number of societal ills. Christian thinkers, theologians, and religious leaders are weighing in about how this obsession negatively plays itself out in our homes, parishes, and communities. In a nutshell, selfies are not exactly causing us to engage in self-reflection (no pun intended) on the things that really matter in life—faith, family, and service to others. Instead selfies seem to be having the opposite effect.
They’re causing more of us to believe the world actually does revolve around us, and they’re keeping us stuck at the surface, leading us to focus only on worldly matters.