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Time to face the facts

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaSocial media is making us anti-social but selfies will save the day.



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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Camel bites tourist during selfie

When selfies go wrong.

FOR the world’s first selfie we have to thank Greek mythology and Narcissus, who peered into a pool of water and spotted his reflection. Smitten by his own beauty, he remained there pining in perpetuity, thus giving up the promise of a wondrous life packed with frolicsome women, a divorce or two, alimony issues, dysfunctional kids, usurious education fees and a crushing home mortgage. Was it worth it? Well…

What John William Waterhouse captured on canvas in his immortal ‘Echo and Narcissus’ was a foretelling of the coming of the iPhone, Steve Jobs and the Kardashians. While Rembrandt took months daubing oil paint on canvas to get his face right, today it’s one click.

With all the wonders of technology you now get immaculately-coiffed yet seemingly addled characters wandering about with a secret smile, heading up escalators and crossing roads, phone trained on their faces until, WHAP, SPLAT… they get hit by a container truck to morph into pavement mush.

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Selfies have changed the world and, in a testament to shy pride or overweening vanity – take your pick – have created a new genre of art where everyone puts a PR spin on things, be it a dull breakfast or a dismal day at the office, accompanied by a bright, smile and a triumphal V-sign. Image posts with smileys cheerily announce, “Good morning Africa,” with a depiction of endless, burning sand as the sun rises higher above the unforgiving Sahara. What you don’t see is the cutaway of the wife hollering, “What in god’s name are we doing here you idiot?”

Why do we feel compelled to project ourselves as maniacally happy not-lonely-at-all-see-I’m-painting-my-nails kind of way all the time? God, or the Big Bang, made day and night. And people are happy and sad, amused and depressed. Not so if you look at selfies on Facebook where feel-good deception is practised on an industrial scale.

Maybe all this is making the world a better place and peace will break out soon as the world gives itself a massive hug. Or maybe we’re deluding ourselves and running away from something called ‘life’. I constantly meet friends who appear feverishly ecstatic on Facebook and later, in person, drop all pretence and moan about their real life. Remember that? Real life. When people spoke to each other and actually shook hands, without fear of Ebola, SARS, or any dangerous deviation from their cheerful FB script.

{Compared to all this, the irredeemably sexless sepia of yore, featuring an Agatha, a Beula or a Hilda, is suddenly alluring in its unadorned simplicity

The underlying message is that friends will not like us if they see us as we really are. They will abandon us to the sterile wastes of the Sahara rather than hitting the ‘like’ button and thus transforming a lousy holiday into a memorable expedition packed with Viagra and V-signs. Linked-in, while providing a useful service, provides another opportunity to build and polish a fake front, this time with a smart tie on. It’s like speed dating. If you are not receiving friend requests, you must be doing something wrong.

Travel is where selfies come into a class of their own. With a backdrop of the Taj Mahal, the pyramids, a Phuket beach, or the Eiffel Tower, who could resist dumping his better half for a quick and extraordinarily meaningful megapixel encounter with himself? Add to this ‘usies’ with a few more people tossed in for good measure, and you get a sense of a world on weed. It’s fun, of course, in a disembodied college party 4am kind of way. But it’s still continuing at 6am, 9am, 3pm…

Compared to all this, the irredeemably sexless and dog-eared sepia of yore in the public library, featuring an Agatha, a Beula or a Hilda, is suddenly alluring in its unadorned simplicity. Here was some kindly woman, alas with a meat-shrivelling name, who believed in virtue and the joys of a large family with five sprogs who headed religiously every Sunday to church. There was an endearing honesty to this even if no one brought a Beula to the Ball.

Every day we see people miss buses by inches, stumble off moving walkways and run into lampposts simply because they can’t stop looking at themselves on their cell phone cameras. Rightly, in Hong Kong’s MTR stations, announcements warn against ‘only looking at your phone’. Some eye contact would be good too.

Since time immemorial, humans have sought immortality. Selfies have granted their wish. FB will never die and all those out of focus snaps – from tattoos and failed cooking attempts to stalkers and ex-boyfriends – are destined to survive until the Four Riders of the Apocalypse arrive to rid the world of all this tedium. Unless, of course, someone gives them an iPhone. “Hey, hang on buddy, don’t destroy the world just yet. Let’s take an usie. Got a selfie stick? Jeez this is fun…”

As the pop ballads croon, “Everywhere I go, I see your face…” It’s true.

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