I count myself amongst those who find selfies off-putting, but I’d never moralize about them or people who take them. I recognize that the selfie impulse is pervasive, so I’m open to anybody’s ideas about what motivates them and what they really mean. I found this meditation on selfies particularly useful:
“With selfies we can think we are asserting an agency that escapes control, though this is control’s exact contemporary mechanism: producing ourselves as an object for the network, performing the obligatory work of identity construction in a captured, preformatted space. Selfies, then, primarily signal the availability of the self to the network.”
You should read the whole post, because there’s much more to the idea than this, but the last sentence of the above passage hits on a major IRL theme: the “placeness” of the social web, and whether and how we are or are not “there.”
“Availability to the network” is not well accounted for by our communication tools. Not yet, at least. Because the industry decided to solve technical availability before addressing social availability, “always on” became the easiest cultural norm to adopt in these early years of mobile computing. The only intuitive sense we have of present-day communication is that everyone has a buzzing phone in their pocket and can be instantly summoned. If they don’t answer immediately, we wonder what’s going on.
I dream of some kind of basic, universal protocol for broadcasting availability, like the IM status messages of old, but everywhere at once. All we need is a basic red-yellow-green code of availability to completely transform social expectations about who’s online and who is not. Perhaps the selfie is a kind of hack for this. By presenting oneself to the network for consumption, one is saying “Here I am!”, thereby managing expectations about one’s availability. But as explored further in this great post, to do this requires a certain acceptance of the packaged, commercially exploitable version of oneself that social media impose.