Note to Selfie: How A Word Redefined Self Portraits Forever

By: James Di Fiore


We are undoubtedly the most vain generation the planet has seen since Caligula first got high. Hands down.

The Age of Narcissism, the End of Humility, the iWant Generation. Take your pick, because it’s all us.

Also, we are meticulous record keepers. Most of us keep every email we send and receive. Our social networking pages are blueprints to an embellished version of ourselves, forcing the marketing companies to tweak the way they syphon our information before buying ad space from media companies who incidentally measure our data for insights they extract from our virtual profiles.

The world is unreal, literally.

Is it too soon to ask for what the long-term effects might be for staring at digital screens for a few decades? Does asking that question make me a “lefty” or a “hipster”? How many times a day do you see “love it!” or “epic!” or someone else’s cat or an online dating ad or a horrible song produced by an untalented friend on your news feeds? Millions of people live this way, but I feel like in 50 years everyone is going to have eye cancer or something, born out of a lifelong habit of staring at billions of images on various phones, tablets, computers and televisions.

I feel like I’ve been institutionalized, like I’ve been Shawshanked. Because Brooks was right; the world went and got itself in a big hurry, and instead of crawling out of our digital fixation here and there, we sit happily in our virtual prisons.

OK, that was a little overstated. But you get the picture, literally.

We all know technology has hoarded our time, and we are all guilty of letting technology squeeze out some of our good behaviour, our etiquette. Whether it’s scrolling through our Facebook pages while having brunch or reflexively checking our email during those fleeting in-person moments we have with actual human beings; we’ve lost something, all of us.

Coupled with this new bad habit of putting our digital selves before our fleshy loved ones is a new childish habit of creating words out of thin air to describe our interests and behaviours. The genesis of such an unlettered habit may have stemmed from the celebrity tabloids that forced words like Bennifer and KimYe into the lexicon. Apparently saying two people’s names was just too difficult or us, so creating a hybrid moniker became the trend. It remains the calling card of a generation gone mad, and has created the overarching trend of creating nonsensical names for several other every day activities.


The single most ridiculous word on the lips of people today is “selfie”. Never has a word been so juvenile, so revealing of a culture gone mad as this perversion of language. It is such an unrefined label, such a waste of breath and lip/tongue positioning that I cringe when I force my laptop keys to spell its name. Along with this failure of linguistics is an even more tragic victim; the definition of ‘selfie’ has infected what used to be perfectly legitimate activities in photography, specifically the self-portrait, or the documenting of an event you are attending. Selfie has bastardized the language, our decorum and our ability to think rationally about snapping a photo.

The most recent example of a world gone mad due to the evil branding of a made up word occurred at the Jim Flaherty state funeral where Justin Trudeau stopped to take a few photos with onlookers. Wait, I mean he was being immature and stopped for some selfies. Wait, what?

Let’s examine the new rule of photography now that the word ‘selfie’ exists, shall we? Don’t worry, there’s only one rule.

1. If you own the phone, you can’t take a photo with your face in it.

I know, I know…there’s not much difference between asking a third party to take a photo and taking it yourself, especially if all you want is a memory of meeting a politician at a historical event, but sorry bud, find a stranger to help you. Otherwise, you are immature and worthless. True story.

At the Flaherty state funeral, nearly every politician who was asked to stop for a photo or an interview, stopped for a photo or an interview. Many politicians, including several conservative cabinet ministers, stopped for several photos and interviews. Some of these photos were taken by the media, some by third party strangers who took the photo for the owner of the camera, and a few taken by the people who owned the cameras. That last group….yeah, they’re abhorrent. Period. They clearly have no idea about how things work in the Age of Narcissism. In the Age of Narcissism you are allowed to take selfies only when you are at home making a duck face in the mirror, not to document historical events and have your photo taken with someone famous, unless of course you let someone else grub up your iPhone. Easy peasy.

All kidding aside, if you believe taking a self-portrait lacks proper manners but it’s simultaneously fine to take photos not of yourself, you are an idiot and Darwinism should take care of you in good time. For the rest of us, stop being tricked into trends. It’s unbecoming, and doesn’t jive with our mutual desire to be savvier than the next guy.

This was free advice, Caligula. You should take it.


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