The infamous Nelson Mandela memorial service selfie: Danish prime minister Helle-Thorning
Schmidt flanked by David Cameron and Barack Obama. Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images


At the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik attempts a nuanced defense of the “selfie,”

The usual complaint against the selfie is that it substitutes terrible narcissism for what once was a sense of seeing things for their own sake—that what matters to the eye of the iPhone camera is not the place I am in but the fact that I am in it. The need to memorialize the moment takes precedence over living the actual experience. But have we not always been inclined to “take” our faces to preserve our upbeat moments?

Yes, but it was never so easy to make every possible event, even a memorial service for someone else, a chance to celebrate—oneself. Indeed, when President Obama and other world leaders did that at Nelson Mandela’s memorial, many media types hastened to defend them. 

In the age of the imperial self, it seems, one markets oneself, often to oneself. 

All that said, if we do not want merely to star in our own reality show 24/7, cell photos can help us maintain relationships over time and distance.  

For example, my family has found informal cell pix helpful when visiting very old seniors who live in retirement homes and can’t travel much or have memory problems. We print them out, label them, and show them to the resident. Perhaps the one we took yesterday of themselves with their great grandchildren. We put them up on the door to be admired by nursing staff and other visitors. The resident is then constantly reminded of the people who visited, who they are, and why they were there.

Or one can send photos of the interior of a newlywed grandchild’s new home, thousands of kilometres away, to the tablet in Grandma’s room. Regular photos of a pet, now cared for by someone else, can supplement occasional pet visits.

As an aside, some seniors complain bitterly that they have been separated from a beloved furry companion. At some level, most realize that the animal is better off living with a younger person who can easily provide care and exercise. Cell pix would make it easier to stay in touch with how the pet is doing between visits.

Readers, can you share ways you use quick photos to help people stay in touch with each other in the comments box?

Here are commonsense tips from collections of selfie etiquette:

– From About Etiquette: 

Be respectful. If you are at a holocaust museum, taking a selfie in front of an exhibit shows a lack of respect for those whose lives were lost in this horrific era. People’s emotions are still raw over what happened, and they are likely to be that way for centuries. There are places where selfies are never appropriate, including a funeral, ICU or critical care unit in a hospital, and disaster site where people died. 

Although we might take for granted that anyone would realize that, we recently looked at the extensive efforts that one young woman had to undertake to recover her reputation and career after an ill-advised selfie at a military cemetery.

– This hardly needs sayng but one should never publish an identifiable image of a person captured in the photo without their permission of course. Apart from invasion of privacy, if that person is sick, injured, or distressed, it is callous.

– We should all bear in mind that the internet can be forever, especially for the very things we might wish to lose.


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...