Dissecting the exploits of social media photographers has become a new national pastime. Just this week, Vox reported on influencers chartering a tour to a beautiful Arizona canyon on an Instagrammable rite of passage, and the New York Times chronicled models flocking to a Siberian chemical waste dump for the perfect lakefront shot.
This comes just a few weeks after Twitter lit up with a misleading, now-deleted tweet shaming people who snapped selfies at the Chernobyl disaster site. That post triggered a viral pile-on from celebrities and journalists and rabid fans of then-one-month-old HBO miniseries Chernobyl. And years before that, the public dogpiled on a group of girls who posed for selfies at a baseball game. Somewhat predictably, outlets regularly publish takedowns every time a new made-for-selfie locale pops up. (Of this I am also guilty.) All the hissing and fussing signals a common dynamic: If you’ve got a selfie stick, beware — the internet’s a got a pitchfork.
Look at these morons, I remember thinking.
The hostility with which readers treat these selfie-takers is vicious, but also relatable. During a recent hike, I came across a glossy selfie shoot, plum in the middle of a remote wilderness. Look at these morons, I remember thinking.
My self-righteousness is echoed in op-eds warning us about our social media use and an increasingly inward gaze. Selfie culture represents a generation abandoning real life, pundits say, and selfies are commonly associated with inauthenticity and narcissism. Pop sociology books shoot up Amazon’s rankings by promising to point us back home, offline, “in the moment.” It is there, the story goes — away from the shared photos and performative updates — where we finally return to our true selves.
“What a ridiculous state of affairs this is,” writes Nathan Jurgenson in his recent book The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media. “The idea that the selfie has corrupted our authenticity,” Jurgenson argues, “is part of a larger misunderstanding that takes anything digital to be distinct from real life.”