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Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

What does our obsession with 'selfie' photos say about society?

Selfie is a new kid on the block. So new that when you run it through a spellcheck, it comes out as sheltie.

Ironically, one of the other alternatives to selfie in the spellcheck is the word selfless. Why selfish is not an alternative is baffling.

This "selfie" business is probably a passing phenomenon. I would not call it "our" obsession. It certainly is the obsession of some people, but I would not brand it as an epidemic.

There are so many people who walk around with texting gadgets that take pictures, and to a certain extent, the "selfie" pictures reflect a trigger-happy penchant for making maximum use of the picture taking capacity. Or, perhaps, it is a frustration with doing the usual picture taking, the same old same old, and therefore doing something different, like "selfie" stuff.

But I remember when cameras first came out, that we experimented with taking different types of shots, including, usually jokingly, pictures of the self. But we never called it a "selfie." It was just playful fun.

The "selfie" name is probably more of an issue than the actual photographic act. Why call it "selfie"?

In a way, it is a shocking, but uncannily honest projection of the self absorption that too often colours our behaviour. Many have commented on this being the age of narcissism, an age in which the self reigns supreme, an age in which the primary value is finding one's self, or the more fancy variation - self realization. It is a very small step from focus on the self, to focusing the camera on the self; in fact, it is almost a natural step.

Human beings are like cameras in that the design, with camera lenses and human lenses, is to look outward. The only way we can look at ourselves is via a mirror. Otherwise, whatever we see is outside our selves. If there is a message in this elementary optic, it is that true humanity comes through in our outer directed concern, beyond the self.

We were designed to focus our attention on the world beyond. When we look down, rather than ahead, we crash. The "selfie" stuff, in a less than poetic sense, signals a perversion of the optics. Our cameras, and our concerns, should be for the world out there.


Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on March 15, 2014

Sat, March 23 2019 16 Adar II 5779