The word of the year proves we can’t help ourselfies

By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the El Paso Times

Posted: 12/05/2013 12:00:00 AM MST

The word of the year, according to researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary, is “selfie.” Prodigious use of the new word gave it the crown. The announcement says two things about our contemporary culture: it is narcissistic; and, it is superficial.

For those who are living in the shadows of social media — I happily count myself in that population — a “selfie” is a picture one takes of oneself, usually with a cell phone, and then posts on Internet sites for sharing.

So popular is this sport that even the pope has succumbed to its allure.

A “selfie” can create a buzz around what one is wearing — a smile or a new hat — or what one is not wearing. New technology has made it possible for people to share their puerile and reckless ways. Demure demurs and takes to a path of fashionable defiance.

A quick lean away from the lens, a click, and something pedestrian or tawdry gains currency.

In fact, the more that something leans toward the outrageous or the sensational, the greater the odds that the posting will go viral, and perhaps even land on the evening news.

All of this could be dismissed as being quite silly were it not for the fact that the cultural trend steeped in the empty self has implications for society.

Add to the idea of “selfie” miles and miles of inane text, and a condition is created wherein people no longer hear words that curve upward.

Then does the rose lose all its beauty to common color and picayune phrase.

In class, as in other places, teens wait tensely for the small tinkling sound announcing the arrival of some new posting on the tiny screen of their cell phones.

This triviality is so burdened with expectation that a youngster would forget his food, ignore his girlfriend, and even walk directly into traffic to receive it.

Adults are not immune to this tech disease.

While driving an automobile, a driver may keep one eye on the phone in his lap to see if something new got added to a string of conversation. The more daring will compose a short text message on the go.

Clearly, “selfie” stands for something that powers the modern mind to seek a new landscape for human relations, and to adopt new risks for the journey. It is more than a word.

Like the sirens, it is an enchantress that will draw social-media sailors to shipwreck on fuliginous shores.

“Selfie” is a symbol for a world in which no one notices the length of a politician’s nose or the dexterity of the devil’s hand. Where a small rectangular screen becomes raison d’etre, the earth loses its curvature. In the clutter and cacophony of text, Homer is lost. Swift is swiftly denied, because no one cares for or understands satire. And the Brooklyn Bridge — “O harp and altar, of the fury fused” — loses mettle and might to downcast eyes.

From inside a million-dollar home in America’s suburbia, a young and beautiful woman puts out daily vlogs about nothings: the clothes she is wearing, the haul from a supermarket, details about dinner at a fancy restaurant. Her channel has more than a million subscribers.

On the other hand, a talented teacher who is creating science and math videos struggles to get a few dozen subscribers.

At a university, organizers found it difficult to fill the seats for a lecture on physics delivered by a Nobel-prize winner. Had a Kardashian been brought on, the riot police would have been called to keep the crowds at bay.

“The age demanded an image for its accelerated grimace.” We got it in the form of a word: Selfie.

Ramnath Subramanian, a retired public-school teacher, writes for the El Paso Times on educational topics. E-mail address: