Around the time Instagram came into our lives 10 years ago, our phone cameras got so good, they began to spell doom for the “digicams” we used. In fact, the death of digital cameras was smooth and quick; it happened even before we could elucidate the thought: “Am I buying a phone or a camera?”
The death of self-consciousness, though, took a little while longer.
About 1,500 pictures ago on my Instagram timeline, I find shots I’ve posted of people taking selfies in public places, with captions that sarcastically read, “Selfie, selfie in the hall, who’s the fairest of them all?” But just a couple of hundred posts later, I find my own first gym selfie magnifying my gains, then a selfie with friends, and then (not just) some more.
I’d call the moment the then US President Barack Obama unabashedly took a selfie with the then British and Danish PMs in 2012 the turning point. The world leaders were at a memorial for Nelson Mandela, and while debates raged over whether they were being disrespectful, the world thought of it as a real moment to cherish. Ellen DeGeneres when hosting the Oscars just a few months later created a Hollywood moment by getting the biggest stars in one frame. And of course, Bollywood followed suit.
By now, the selfie was commonplace. The camera phone revolution had turned all of us into the “Japanese tourists” travellers despised, and phone companies were now marketing their products based on how refined their “front-facing” selfie camera could be. We were now turning into teenage girls (no gender bias intended) with coming-of-age consciousness of the way we looked.
Somewhere around there, we muddled up the meaning of “selfie”. Every photo of ourselves, we realised after trial and error, was not a selfie; it was just one that we had taken ourselves.
Selfie-sticks and gimbals made their way into our lives, even as self-consciousness dissipated with a degree of reluctance.
Today, we work from home and use ring lights, Dutch tilts and strategise and plan the background visible through our cameras. Publicly, of course, we shun filters and self-obsession.
The truth is that a selfie is today as practical as it is fun. When alone in a mall, a mirror selfie from the changing room helps you get an opinion. When on a holiday with friends, an extended arm and faces crowded into a frame is more intimate than asking a stranger to take a pic. And when you’re feeling down and out, a flattering self-photograph posted online can deliver a quick dopamine kick and lift you faster than spirits can.
Follow Jamal Shaikh on Twitter @JamalShaikh
From HT Brunch, September 21, 2020
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