The selfie stick—it’s the icon of our age. It was listed in Time magazine's 25 best inventions of 2014. Nothing better captures the spirit of our era than this extendable metal stick that enables people to position a camera for the taking of endless self-portraits. Some have dubbed it the “Wand of Narcissus.” And for good reason.
Of course, if you’re on vacation with your family or at a class reunion, there’s nothing narcissistic about whipping out the selfie stick to capture the togetherness. Before this invention, a group photo necessarily excluded the picture taker. Alternatively, it meant corralling a safe-looking stranger to snap the shot while entrusting your camera into his hands. So the selfie stick has most definitely enhanced the ability to capture important memories.
However, it has also served as fuel on the contemporary fire of narcissism, which blazes hot on the hearth of social media. Given my age, I’m thinking specifically of Facebook, which the younger generation fled when we infiltrated their domain. They want their own thing, so Facebook? Forget it. And it’s true—fully 71 percent of adults who go online are on Facebook. And that includes a good number of seniors.
But whether young or old, posting selfies is ubiquitous. Some people change their profile picture weekly or even daily. Some of these are candid, in-the-moment fun shots, but many result only after countless takes and retakes have set the subject off to best advantage. What’s the appeal? Primarily, it’s the opportunity it provides to create and project a DIY identity. Facebook photo albums give us a way to hide our flaws, disappointments, and failures.
Do you find yourself discontented after scanning your Facebook newsfeed? That happened to me earlier this year. It was spring break, so my newsfeed was one long beach vacation of smiling parents and happy kids splashing in the waves. Meanwhile, it was snowing where I live, and during those frozen April days, I was not enjoying a warm beach. I was helping out some of those beach-goers by caring for their farm animals. As I scrolled that week through one beach posting after the next, my discontentment grew—as did my envy.
Only later did it hit me: nobody is their Facebook page. From posts to pictures, it’s all one, long running Christmas letter—a recap of the year’s achievements with a smiling family photo to prove it. We all receive those. And we send them too. Facebook pages, like those Christmas letters, are a choreographed DIY identity. The real identity, behind the smiles and the beaches, has all the normal stuff of everyone’s life: sickness, heartbreak, rejection, and anxieties. Flaws.
The world sees no choice but to hide behind their DIY identities. After all, this life is all they think they’ve got, so they live as those who have no hope: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32). If you can’t make it, fake it—that’s what Facebook provides them a chance to do.
Do you know who you are? Take a look at all you’ve posted on your Facebook wall, and you’ll get a true idea not only of how you see yourself but also of who you want to be. Those of us who profess Christ don’t need a DIY identity. We’ve already got one: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).