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The Selfie Generation: What The Photography Trend Says About Millenials

February 10, 2014

I’ll admit it:  I snap selfies.  Often.

Recently, one of my sorority sisters wrote the following Facebook status:

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I’ve taken selfies everywhere from the car to the Super Bowl and the White House to the CNN newsroom.  With my broad selfie experience in tow, it was only with minor embarrassment that I answered my friend’s question:

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In that answer, though, lies a key takeaway about my millenial generation:  The moments we feel worthy of sharing with others aren’t necessarily the ones when we are surrounded by others, but ones of solitude.  We are a “me, myself and I” generation, whose boldest and brightest moments are oftentimes punctuated by lengths of time spent alone rather than surrounded by loved ones.  Work trips.  Soul seeking trips.  Designated alone time.  The millenial generation’s fascination with selfies is one that demonstrates the culture’s growing ability to separate itself from its surroundings and ignore the people around it.  Selfies proclaim, “Look at me” not “Look at what or who is around me.”  Selfies define my and my peers’ willingness to disconnect from everything around us in the growing age of connectivity.

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A selfie I snapped on the airplane en route to Miami to cover the 2014 NBA Finals.

Last fall, I spent a pleasantly warm South Beach afternoon lunching at Bianca at the Delano Hotel with fashion company, Peace Love World’s, founder Alina Villasante as I interviewed her for Forbes.  As we picked at the last pieces of grilled calamari on our table and pushed around the truffle tagliatelle on our plates, my interview wound down and our conversation quickly turned to my and her publicist’s single status.  As Alina’s publicist and I commiserated over dating stories gone terribly bad, Alina chimed in with some advice that was more so insight into our millenial generation.  Alina told us that our generation doesn’t pay attention to its surroundings.  We are so immersed in our iPhones, our next social media posts and our selfies, that we are out of tune with what’s going on around us.  It is that being out of tune, that for many of us, is the cause of our solitude, our singledom and our ultimate inability to connect on a deeper level with those around us.  To make her point, Alina turned over her left shoulder and quipped, “Look at that man over there!  How handsome is he?! I bet neither of you even noticed him when he walked in!”

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A selfie I snapped in my car. When it was dark outside. Whilst making a minor duck face. Completely normal. And so 2013.

She was right.  We hadn’t.  Neither of us had noticed the model-like man who was sitting mere feet away from us, at a table dining alone.  The point Alina had in all of this, was that as my generation is so immersed in itself, we are letting opportunities slip by.  And for the most part, those opportunities are good ones.  They are opportunities to connect, bond and feel something deeper.

After this conversation with Alina, I began wondering what opportunities I’m missing out on when I am so connected to my phone, social media and myself.  What person am I not meeting when I am immersed in these things?  What chances are passing me by as I devote my time to these things?  How am I not achieving what I am capable of when my attention is turned so deeply inward and into channels where people are not present in person, but online?  At the least, what kind of people might I be meeting if instead of snapping pictures of myself, I just hand my iPhone off to a stranger and ask him to take my picture?

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Who did I miss out on meeting by snapping this selfie at the White House?

In thinking about these questions, I realized that my generation has a problem.  The technological globalization of our world has allowed us to surpass communication boundaries in a way that no generation has before.  Yet, in the midst of that, we’ve forgotten how to connect with those around us.  Our ability to communicate with people thousands of miles away in the blink of an eye has stripped us of our ability to look at the handsome man at the table across from us and say, “Hello.”  As we reach for opportunities outside of our surroundings, we are forgetting how to connect with those closest to us.  The inability to connect with those nearest to us is the culprit for many of our loneliness, singledom and constant desire for something “more” with someone other than ourselves.

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In the CNN newsroom, getting ready to go on air. A selfie was necessary. Clearly.

Recognizing these things, what is a millenial to do?  Must the selfies stop?  Should the communication with those around the world cease?  Do we need to approach every attractive single man dining alone?  Obviously, the answer to all of those questions (save for maybe the last one, if you have enough cojones) is, “No.”

Rather, like many things, recognizing the connection problem that exists amongst the generation is the first step to addressing the problem.  If connecting on deep levels is the problem my generation is facing, then perhaps, we must disconnect Why don’t we make rules amongst friends to set the iPhones down while dining?  Why don’t we scan the room when we enter a restaurant or other public place to see if anyone catches our interest?  And if someone does, why don’t we make it a point then and there to connect?  And for all the single ladies, why don’t we make a pact to stop snapping selfies, and instead, start asking that handsome someone to snap your picture?  Only by disconnecting from ourselves–whether it be surfing the web on our iPhone, promoting ourselves via social media or capturing our God-given beauty through selfless–can we begin reconnecting with others.

Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2013 was “selfie.”  How much better might 2014 be, if the word of the year is “together”?  Put down your iPhone and start making it happen.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 11, 2014 6:11 am

    I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, teck is making us Millennials disengage. That hasn’t been my experience at all. Where I live there are several local groups that self-organize on Facebook and meet in local pubs. The online forums help you verify people are who they say they are very quickly. They build trust. People struggle to swim when they don’t have the balls to jump in the water. Millennials aren’t a homogeneous group. They have the full range of personality traites that other generations have. Some will do well in this digital environment, others less so.

    I would say the real trick is to make sure you are engaged, locally. Make sure you are acting “locally”. For instance: Are a healthy proportion of your online social connections loose and local? As in do you connect digitally with people you don’t know well, simply because you live in close proximity to them? If you do, social media helps expand your range of experiences, stimulates you and opens you up to more real life experiences. You will meet more, interesting people.

    If you use your social media as a funnel, to connect to lots of people that’s great, but if you want to escalate, the loose social media connections to something more meaning full you have to make sure you are making those loose, connection with people who are geographically close enough to you that you can meet up casually often. If you just use social media to connect with geographically distant people, witch you are already emotionally close with, then it is distracting and less useful.
    The problem isn’t that we engage, too much in “digital communication, it is that we don’t take the brave pill often enough and speak to the interesting guy in the room, because that is in inherently more dangerous thing to do than looking at our phones.

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