To thine own selfie be true

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 30, 2013

One of the things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving is that I have never taken a photograph of myself. This reticence puts me seriously athwart the culture.
Just the other day, the publishers of the Oxford Dictionaries announced that their unanimous choice for 2013 Word of the Year was “selfie,” which they defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”
If you did not know that, it speaks very well of you. Perhaps you can join me for a beer if you promise not to bring your iPhone.
As one who grew up Down Under, I was sorry to see that Oxford Dictionaries traced the first recorded usage of selfie to an Australian online forum in 2002. Because Australian slang favors the shortening of words, it’s not surprising that a self-taken photo became a selfie.
Relatives in Australia are rellos, football is footy, a barbecue is a barbie, the TV is the telly and this afternoon is this arvo. Are your rellos coming over this arvo to watch the footy on the telly and have a barbie? Sure, mate. Just as soon as they take a selfie.
Shockingly but perhaps not surprisingly, alcohol was evidently involved at this great moment of linguistic creation.
It’s been onward and upward ever since. The use of selfie went up 17,000 percent in the last year. One of the runner-up words for the year’s top honor was “twerk” — you know, to gyrate buttocks lasciviously while dancing — another thing I am thankful that I have never done. Everybody who knows me is thankful.

As it happens, a word has long existed for self-absorbed selfie behavior. While “me, me, me” may cover the territory, there’s also “narcissism,” so named for a story in Greek mythology in which a handsome youth named Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection in a pool.
But how wet is that? What that boy needed was an iPhone to share his wonderful appearance, perhaps while not wearing so much as a fig leaf — to which his friends would have said “Gross!” in Greek.
Full disclosure on selfies: While I have not taken a photograph of myself on a cellphone, being sufficiently quaint to think that their main purpose is to make calls, the younger me did squeeze into those little photography booths provided in malls for boys and girls to take a strip of photos of themselves while making funny faces.
But that wasn’t about the photography or the egotism; it was about the squeezing. Not the same thing at all.

While the general sense of privacy is being clicked away and posted on social media for all to see, other technological marvels are taking privacy public. Think drones — not in the old sense of bees, but unmanned aircraft that provide an eye in the sky.
Drones are not just for hunting terrorists anymore. As a recent story in the New York Times reported, they are now being used by news reporters, in one case to survey the damage done by the typhoon in the Philippines.
If questionable characters like journalists are flying drones, soon everybody will be using them to take pictures of the neighborhood. These drones will be like model planes or helicopters promising fun for the whole family.
When unsuspecting Americans sun themselves beside their pools, they may risk having photos of them posted on Facebook by the neighborhood drone patrol. Worse yet, some people will be caught in the act of taking inappropriate selfies, a wink of the eye in the sky to the eye in the phone.
It will mean war. Shotguns will be kept at the ready. Skeet shooters, previously mocked for blasting at birds that even a good boiling doesn’t make tender, will be in much demand. In those parts of America where firearms are a cult, anti-aircraft batteries will be set up — a little too much gun for the bird perhaps, but great fun for the shooters.
Homeowners will have their own little drone air forces to intercept the raiders. It will be like the Battle of Britain. The cry of “Bandits at 9 o’clock” will echo over people’s yards. They will fly flags featuring a coiled rattlesnake and the words: “Don’t Instagram me.”
We will need a new word for it, and I suggest droneageddon. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your rellos and be thankful that peace and privacy are not yet shot down completely.

Reg Henry is a columnist and editorial writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.