Why Do We Take Selfies?

Press Start for “Why Do We Take Selfies?” by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.

Ep.35: Why Do We Take Selfies?

Written by: Eugene Wolters
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Animation Consultant: Matt Reichle
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon

Why Do We Take Selfies?

It’s hard to walk down the street these days without witnessing someone so enthralled with themself that they can’t help but take a picture, or 20, of their own mug.

The compulsion to take selfies is a relatively new development in society, a progression from the days when one had to rely on strangers to snap the perfect picture.

Selfies have become a way to narrate our own existence: we post them on social media and frantically hit ‘refresh’ to see who’s liked it – desperately seeking validation. Despite the novelty of it all, the impetus behind taking selfies is quite old.

Taking selfies isn’t just about avoiding interaction with strangers, it’s a mandate to give meaning to our behavior, to confess the truth of our inner existence.

French philosopher Michel Foucault argues that we have become a “confessing society.” Unlike some who argue that we’re hoodwinked by those in power to believe some “official” truth, Foucault argues that the confession generates these truths within ourselves.

The confession originated in the Christian Church during the Middle Ages, where one was required to tell their sinister desires, acts and thoughts.

The confession was a ritual that changes “the person who articulates it: it exonerates, redeems and purifies” them. The power lies with the priest, who listens, yet says nothing. In this act, it is the confessor who admits to wrong-doing, not an authority who accuses one of a crime. That, dear viewer, happens to be a very effective way to make sure that people aren’t up to no good.

It is so effective that the act of confession then spread to our schools, hospitals, even to our families. We began to confess about more and more, not just our crimes but our ailments, our motivations, our dreams. Confession became so ubiquitous that we internalized it.

We’re no longer looking for validation from a priest, but in the eyes of our peers.
We love to talk about ourselves, we no longer need to be compelled to.

We have saddled ourselves with the obligation to tell the story of who we really are – and what better way then a quick selfie in the restroom??

You see, Foucault uses the confessional to illustrate one of the ways in which power is fragmented. It’s not only a powerful priest or Pope that regulates our desires, but our own confessions. While many would argue that power emanates from the top downwards, Foucault argues that it also emanates upwards from ourselves.

There exists the prevalent idea that today we are more free to discuss sex, drugs and rock n’ roll than our prudish past. Not so, argues Foucault. After all, the confessional demanded we enumerate our sins in the most vivid descriptions.

Later, in Victorian England, doctors and their patients couldn’t stop talking about those naughty behaviors. It was never a question of not talking about these things, it was always a question of when, where and how we could talk about them.

The way that we talk about ourselves is both dictated by power and, at the same time, creates power. Power isn’t a bad guy that needs to be defeated, it’s a set of relations that determine how we think, talk and act. What can and cannot be said? How must we say it?

Every time we take a selfie, we’re confessing to society, and participating in those very same relations. These things aren’t simply determined by a Bureau of Selfies, but in the truth that we produce as we talk about, and take pictures of, ourselves.

When we take selfies, are we simply exercising our freedom of expression? Or are we confessing to the world around us in a way that limits us? What inner truth do your selfies reveal, dear viewer?

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