In the Defense of Generation Selfie

It’s an ordinary day for me, my feet kicked up underneath my laptop — I’ve been on my phone a bit too — and I’ve just finished reading yet another article complaining that my generation doesn’t know how to connect with anyone anymore. We are all about that #selfie, we’re all about the perfect pout, we’re all about the best setting to broadcast to everyone to pretend our lives are perfect.

Yet according to popular opinion: Our interactions are meaningless, our existence is just a nuisance, and seriously can you put your phone down for just one second and look me in the eyes?

I almost forgot to mention I’m sitting outside the back of my campervan in the small town of Wanaka, New Zealand and the view in front of me is stunning. Did I post a picture to share this yet? Of course I did. I’ve posted about my day on Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.

I don’t always let off-hand articles about dating and my supposed inability to articulate or express feelings and develop connections get to me… but for some reason I just can’t shake it off today.

Yes, it used to be you had to wait at least 24 hours for your breaking news, and real men used to open the door for real women (with curves in all the right places), and the kids were taught to say Sir and Ma’am to show respect for their elders.

Actually, I was taught all of this, I just get my news a lot faster now.

Like most societies, we have developed new technologies, learned new things, and developed new ways of interacting with others.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine. But, never forget… neither was the past. Our social freedoms and equality have come a long way, and will hopefully keep on progressing as we continue to teach each other and stay connected.

Like anything new, it comes with a learning curve. It comes with unexplored boundaries, unspoken etiquette, and delicate the ecosystems that come with any new type of community — particularly one as vast as the Internet, as it spans all corners of the earth… every background, culture, and creed.

It seems you’re having trouble adjusting to this concept, so I’d like to take a moment and welcome you to the New World, the Age of Information, where we can all learn exactly what we need to know as we need to know it.

Believe it or not, it’s a really powerful thing.

Am I self absorbed? Self confident?

If you add me on Facebook or scroll through any of my social media feeds, you’ll find quite a collection of selfies I’ve taken and posted. You should know that this number pales in comparison to how many I’ve taken and not posted.

I also tend to post quite a number of photos throughout my days and weeks.

Why do I do these things? Is it because I’m self absorbed? Is it because I believe everyone in my life that I’ve ever met really needs to see a picture of the fantastic snapper fish I had for dinner the other night?

Yes and no. I have two points to make about this.

Point #1

Social media is my journal, a digital bookmark of what I’ve seen and done.

Personally, I treat social media as a way to document my world.

It’s far easier for me to snap a photo and post it with the feelings I’m having in that moment rather than trying to recapture it later in a nondescript diary somewhere that I’ll likely lose. I lose most of my physical belongings sooner or later.

Whether or not anyone else wants to see what I post doesn’t bother me. Since I travel a lot and see lots of objectively interesting things, many people follow my feed… but that doesn’t stop me from posting the boring and mundane exactly when I feel like it.

You know what people can do if they don’t want to know what I’ve seen or done that day? They can unfriend me, unfollow me, block me, or whatever else they need to do.

This is my life, my platform, and they are welcome to participate if they want. But I don’t need them bringing negativity to it.

Which brings me to my second point.

Point #2

It really shouldn’t matter to you.

Not everyone is a globetrotter or gets to experience wild adventures to share on social media.

Not everyone’s feeds are full of wild landscapes, stunning scenery, particularly interesting experiences, or anything that you don’t see in your own daily life.

Some people enjoy posting a picture of their face every day. Maybe a latte just really makes them feel good about themselves and this is how they celebrate that. Maybe trying to be artful about capturing their life and sharing it with you is exactly what helps them appreciate what they have.

“Why? No one wants to see their stupid coffee every day! I don’t need to see their same facial expression in front of a blank wall every time I log on!”

Guess what! I have fantastic news for you. You don’t have to. The wonder of technology today includes the option to not participate.

I don’t understand a lot of your habits or the things you believe, but oddly enough I don’t waste my energy berating you for them until I feel you’ve really stepped over your boundaries. Instead, I focus my energy on doing me. I find that when I am as positive as I possibly can be and strive towards being the best version of myself, I have an easier time living with myself.

With that attitude of yours, I can see why you find it strange that these wonderful people out there with their typical duckface selfies and latte photos are trying to let you into their world. See, they’re giving you the option for that. If you don’t want it, don’t hate on their self expression.

Someone shouldn’t have to be particularly beautiful or good with words to share what they find special or difficult in their own day-to-day.

Who cares why they’re doing it? It’s their right to do so.

But, everyone is just pretending to be having a good time!

Why does it make you so angry? Is it because you’re not happy and you’re suspicious that maybe they are happy and that’s infuriating to you?

Actually… Can you point me in the direction of the last person you met who was genuinely happy?

Seriously. We’re all pretty messed up.

We are all dealing with weird childhood issues, perhaps covering up mild alcoholism or some other insidious addiction, hiding our anxiety and depression behind fake smiles and trying not to bring everyone down with us when we feel as if the world is crumbling around us.

Because when we post about the things that make us angry, upset, sad, or depressed, no one wants to listen to that.

You ask for the happy, interesting stories. You instantly judge anyone for being open and honest about their humanity.

So instead of discussing deeper issues, we’ve been pressured by “real adults” to simply post a picture of our smiling faces. Something that Grandma will be happy to see. I mean, will you just look at that cute reindeer vest!

To cope with this pressure, we’ve been hiding behind a facade of social acceptability, slowly trying to figure out how to turn the tides. We are learning to use our new technology to establish real connections, we want to know how to be vulnerable without being weak, how to network without being fake.

We’re having a genuinely good time. (Just not all the time of course.)

But for now we’re just trying to understand what it is you want, and how to mesh your demands with our realities. The current state of things is a product of that pressure.

My use of technology doesn’t devalue my existence… or prove anything about my social skills.

Perhaps communication is a dying art.

Or, perhaps communication the way you understand it is morphing. Just because I spend part of my life scrolling through seemingly aimless websites on my phone or getting on my laptop doesn’t mean I don’t know how to engage with human beings up close and personal.

Yes, I’ve used technology to avoid contact with humans.

Yes, I’ve probably missed out on some interesting moments because I was on my phone at the time.

But do you know how many moments I’ve had only because I engage with people online? Because I invest in relationships with people I’ve never met? Do you know how many lives I have personally changed simply because I spend time writing and posting my own stories and life lessons where complete strangers can find them? Do you know how many people who have made an impact on me because I could easily stay in touch with them?

It all started because of the same compulsive nature that causes people to post their lattes and selfies. Because, that’s also me. I am part of that crowd.

I know how to walk into a bar alone and end up spending the whole night and following day with a group of new friends. I know how to move to a new city and put together a close-knit support group.

You don’t get to dictate whether my experiences are real and whether my social skills are valid based on the fact that I spend a large amount of my time with my nose in technology or trying to frame the mountain in front of me through a viewfinder.

Sure, these things can suck away your life when used improperly… but, so can anything. Food, an essential for life, can even be threatening when you indulge too much.

Your misunderstanding of my generation’s behavior doesn’t mean we are inherently lazy, incapable, or lacking the desire to make an impact beyond ourselves.

We don’t have this all figured out yet, but we’d really appreciate it if you would participate in the journey rather than shooting us down as we go. Maybe instead of pointing a finger and explaining why we’re such terrible people for living the way we do, start looking around you to see how you can change to set things in the right direction.

(Because, as if your opinion on our selfies were important, next up we have to figure out how to save the world and fix the economy once you’re gone.)