Last spring I jumped at a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Paris. Ticking all the Travelocity boxes, I tromped off to the Louvre one morning to see the Mona Lisa. Passing through corridor after corridor of imposing canvases and statuary, I finally reached the Mona Lisa. The masterpiece had been cordoned off, and tourists jockeyed for position near the ropeline. Strangely enough, nearly all of these visitors stood with their backs to the painting. Why? They were taking selfies.
Back in the day, our Kodak moments centered on family life. My own childhood album is crammed with posed snapshots of Easter egg hunts, birthday parties, camping trips, and Christmas dinners. But these days, the focus has moved from family to self. Photos have become tools for communicating, socializing, and curating our ideal (albeit questionable) selves. “We use photos “not to ‘fix’ memory but to constantly reassess our past lives and reflect on what has been as well as what is and what will be,” says José van Dijck, a professor of comparative media studies at the University of Amsterdam.
That conclusion sounds profound, and maybe there’s something to it. But “reassessment” and “reflection” suggest, at least to me, that we spend many a quiet moment browsing through the thousands of photos trapped (most likely forever) on our devices. How many of us have those photos printed, arrange them into online albums, or even think about them again once we’ve posted the best ones to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter? I wish we were all as introspective as Prof. Dijck suggests. But looking back at my snapshot of all those selfie-takers at the Louvre, I have my doubts.