The other day, the word ‘selfie’ was inducted into the Oxford English Dictionary. No, this isn’t another post about how much I hate new words that have sprung out of social media sites, but rather a clever and topical way to begin my post about my irritations regarding selfies and other pointless photos uploaded to Facebook and the like. I know, what a brilliantly current segway into what’s likely to be little more than a rant about popular youth activities.
Ever since photography became a medium available to the masses people have wanted photos of themselves to remember experiences. Maybe a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Christ the Redeemer, or the Statue of Liberty. Or maybe they want to have a record of themselves posing with cultural artefacts of particular nations; A cup of tea, a pint of Guinness, some sushi, haggis, maybe a disgustingly greasy burger. I find all these perfectly acceptable as they serve as memories of time spent on holiday. They’re even less infuriating if there’s more than one person in the photo, which is why when a group of girls at King’s cross station asked me to take a photo of them on holiday, I happily obliged.
Selfies are a very different kettle of fish. Incidentally, a kettle of fish would be a much more interesting image than 99% of selfies. I can’t help but think that were we not in the world of peer approval via the ‘like’ button on Facebook or the ability to comment ‘You beautttt!! <3 xxxxxx’, selfies wouldn’t be the inexplicable phenomenon they seem to have become. I have to admit though, I didn’t previously know that pointless flattery is less than 3. There are clearly some educational benefits to selfies.
There are a few different types of selfie, I’ve noticed. There’s the typical teenage girl one with the subject filling the entire frame with a generic and forced smile, possibly leaning slightly to accentuate the features they believe will attract the most attention. These are often coupled with a short caption detailing the context of the photo, even though this is entirely irrelevant as they have no intention of showing the context but instead seem rather preoccupied with ensuring their pose is completely indistinguishable from every other pointless, infuriating photo they’ve ever taken of themselves. Some of these may even go further in the quest for frivolous gratification and include a caption along the lines of ‘Urgh Im sooo ugly :(((‘ in a transparent (and yet disappointingly effective) plea to be corrected by their fellow airheaded make-up consumers.
A second category of selfie I’ve noted is the male attention-seeking selfie. Now this is an odd offshoot of the typical female seflie as it too is attention-seeking and yet the captions can often be harsher, even more self-aware. Still ridiculous though. For example, not long ago a guy I’m friends with on Facebook (far from indicative of our actual relationship) posted a selfie of himself looking like a carbon copy of himself from any of his other hundreds of pointless selfies along with the moving caption “F*** off im tired”. No, that’s right, it was a caption uploaded along with the photo itself, not a comment in response to anyone at all. In fact, the only person I’ve ever seen comment on one of his photos is his girlfriend who’s always admirably nice. I say admirably, because I’m genuinely impressed with her acceptance. I can’t fathom the reasoning behind these pictures as he doesn’t get any positive reinforcement to encourage him to continue posting these selfies, and yet he doesn’t seem to need it. What exactly is he hoping to achieve through this endeavour? That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m honestly curious.
Lastly, I cannot come to terms with the fact that celebrities tweeting selfies of themselves can even be categorised as news. Well, as the sort of nonsense that passes for news on the Mail Online. Ooh look, an attractive, and somewhat famous female has posted a photo of herself on the internet, screw Syria, THAT’S what people want. And you know what? They might be right. The Mail Online is frighteningly popular despite the blatant sexism, racism and borderline paedophilia that’s deemed acceptable because it’s the daughter of a supermodel that they’re commenting on.
There are many times in life when knowing something doesn’t help you in the slightest. And yet we’re fed information daily throughout our entire lives, gathering nuggets of fact until we have a veritable warehouse stuffed to the rafters with stats, or trivia, song lyrics or movie quotes. Maybe even a mathematical formula or two.
This mismatched focus on knowledge is harrowingly evident in our education system, not that I’m about to dive into a political rant about education or anything. Although I will say that Michael Gove seems to have no legitimate claim to be education minister despite the fact he went to school. Scratch that, clearly he’s the most qualified man for that position. Not like it’s important or anything.
Returning to the matter in hand, schools in this country, and probably many others, focus on teaching information exclusively. Information is, of course, very important, and not a day goes by when I don’t use Planck’s constant* for something or other. Even exams themselves have a major flaw in this area, being nothing more than a collection of learned info scrawled onto paper by stressed out young people rather than being used to develop any important life skills, or even better, wisdom. Some exams, depending on the subject, are different. The humanities often require more application of knowledge than simply a regurgitation of it. Even the skills involved in these are fairly removed from everyday problems. I don’t tend to have to identify the subtle symbolism in the wording of a poem every day.
There is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is nothing more than what you know, whereas wisdom is knowing how to use what you know. A great man said that. I lie, I said it. Is not wisdom the more important quality? Knowing things alone will get one nowhere. I wish we could all focus on encouraging children to be wise rather than simply knowledgeable, but I recognise that in this world, wisdom must be preceded by common sense, and there’s such a lack of that around today that I hold little hope of anyone becoming truly wise. If the average man on the street had to choose which woman’s claims to the baby were true, he’d probably just cut it in half. Not quite King Solomon.
*6.62606957 × 10-34 m2 kg / s if you were wondering.