Oxford Dictionaries, arguably the most prestigious arbiter of the English language, recently unveiled its word of the year – the word “selfie.”
Here’s Oxford’s justification: “Language research conducted by Oxford Dictionaries editors reveals that the frequency of the word ‘selfie’ in the English language has increased by 17,000 percent since this time last year.”
FIRST OF ALL, thank heaven for small favors. “Twerk” almost became the word of the year.
If you don’t know what a selfie is, you’ve probably never taken one. It’s a photograph you snap of yourself, then typically upload to a social media website. The first photo to be designated a selfie by the photographer was posted on Sept. 13, 2002, on an Australian message board. The photo was taken to show a young man’s busted lip from a partying mishap the night before.
I wouldn’t even count it as the first selfie. In 1839 a photography pioneer named Robert Cornelius posed in front of a camera for about a minute, in the back of his father’s lamp business in Philadelphia. That picture is the first successfully rendered photographic portrait of a human being.
And painters have been rendering their own versions of “selfies” for centuries, at least as far back as the Renaissance.
Which proves that people have been self-absorbed possibly for as long as there have been people.
But I suppose we should have seen this coming back in 2006. Remember whom Time magazine chose as its Person of the Year? You. No, really. Look it up. The winner was “You” – the designation Time chose to describe the millions of folks who anonymously contribute user-generated content to the Internet.
THE INTERNET makes it all about you.
And that may not be a good thing.
Selfishness already is a huge problem in this country, and the Internet makes it worse.
Stanford University psychiatry professor Elias Aboujaoude has posited that we can tailor our Internet experiences in such detail that it’s making us more self-centered. It’s part of what psychologists Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell call “the narcissism epidemic,” which also is the title of their 2009 book.
We’re too often embracing a sense of self when we should be reaching out to other people. In real life, not in cyberspace.
You want to know who some of the real heroes are walking among us today? It’s the folks who put other folks first.
There’s a wonderful phenomenon that’s cropped up nationwide in the past few years – “paying it forward,” named for the popular movie that was made from a popular book. Some customers at fast-food restaurants and similar establishments have started paying for the meal of the person behind them in line.
AT A CHICK-FIL-A in Houston, 67 consecutive drive-through customers paid for the subsequent driver’s meal. A coffee shop in Winnipeg reported 228 drivers in a row doing the same thing. Similar accounts have been reported at fast-food joints from coast to coast.
That’s just one simple way to reconnect with your fellow human beings. There are countless other ways. And they don’t even require that you surf the Web.
It shouldn’t be all about you.
Much more often, it should be about us.