A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Hooptedoodle #162 - A Plague of Narcissism?

What is this lady doing, then? Is she trying desperately to get a signal on her mobile phone (is she, like me, an EE customer?)? Perhaps she has a solar-powered pacemaker for some serious heart condition? Is it some strange new Japanese golf club, to get you out of a bunker?

No - of course, everyone knows, she is taking a selfie - how wonderful. She even has a BlueTooth-enabled selfie-stick, so that the photo looks more as though she had a friend who might have taken it for her. Everyone, it seems, is taking selfies. It is the thing to do - which may mean, unfortunately, that one day fashion will dictate that it is no longer the thing to do, in which case we shall very quickly have to think up something even more stupid.

I was very shaken to read in Yahoo News (which comes, I regret to say, as part of my email service) that there is a growing crime-wave associated with selfie-sticks; it seems that there are organised gangs, no less, in popular tourist sites, who will take the opportunity to steal the phone from the end of an innocent selfie-taker's stick, and make off with it. OMG. [If you, too, are shaken by this story, please remember that the number of selfie-takers who are impacted by this dreadful development is still very small - thus far....]

I have never taken a selfie. I cannot imagine wanting to take one, to be honest, so I have mentioned to potential gift-purchasers that they should not bother getting me a selfie-stick - even a BlueTooth enabled one. With luck, people will one day say of me, in low whispers, "do you know, as far as we know he never once took a selfie - unbelievable. Mind you, we have no photos of him at all, so it may be that he was dreadfully ugly..."

The whole idea of selfies seems to me to be consistent with the popular wish to be a celebrity - look at me - my photos are all over Facebook - how cool is that? I even tell everyone when I'm going to be on holiday, and where I keep the spare front door key. Awesome.

For the novice, or would-be, selfie-taker, here is a very useful flowchart from those wonderful people at the DoghouseDiaries, to give a guide as to when it is appropriate to take a selfie:

Two thoughts occur - one more serious than the other.

Firstly, I am reminded of a very sad story from many years ago - supposedly based on fact. An unmarried schoolmistress reached the end of her long career, and decided to spend a hefty portion of her retirement sum on a once-in-a-lifetime tour of the Far East. This would take a few months, and would involve solitary travel to some of the most exotic locations on the planet. In support of this, her work colleagues clubbed together and bought her a very nice, up-market, compact camera, and a mass of film for it, so that she could have a fitting record of her wonderful trip.

She went on her world tour, and when she got home she found a great pile of developed films (remember them?) returned to her from Kodak, which she had posted off for processing from many points throughout her journey. Sadly, she had never really understood the viewfinder on the camera, and she had toured the Far East taking photos with the camera reversed, peering the wrong way through the viewfinder, trying to make sense of what was out there. She had many hundreds of out-of-focus pictures of her right ear, taken at huge expense at the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and many other wonderful locations.

Would this lady have been better or worse off in the age of the selfie-stick? Discuss.

Second thought. My mother has a big padded envelope which contains ancient photos of relations and ancestors going back to the 1870s - fascinating. Not only is this a family record, it is a fabulous insight into fashions, social history, transport and all sorts of things. Some of these pictures are faded and battered, a few are in a pretty poor state, and it is my intention to scan them all very soon, so that I have some proper form of back-up if they all turn to dust. That got me thinking. How secure is a digital back-up, in the long term, anyway?

In an age when so many digital pictures are taken - throwaway, worthless pictures, most of them, who is it that is serious enough or organised enough to set up proper archiving to ensure that we will still be able to find and read these pictures 150 years from now? Will our descendants in the 23rd Century have a useful equivalent of my mother's envelope? Will they have any record of what their long-dead forebears looked like? Even the odd selfie from Margate?


  1. I remember going on a school trip once to the Tower of London taking my Kodak instamatic with me and having to shoo my mates out of my line of sight to take snaps. The result some 48 years later is a set of very boring photos without a single shot of any of my 1st year chums! This seems to be the polar opposite of the way modern yoof behaves but I did discover that in the end photos of people are more interesting than photos of Traitor's Gate.

    Your right about digital photos and the future - I now have loads of pics of family and friends on my PC but none of them are labelled for future generations. At least my mum & dad's old snaps have names and places written on the back!

  2. I fear I have taken selfies. My wife believes that my totemic animal is the peacock and tells me so. She's probably not wrong, though I would argue that the medievals, who knew a thing or two, preferred good old fashioned vanity to the modern term narcissism. In my defence, I have never bought nor will ever buy a selfie stick. I spent a week in Italy last summer with a friend who had one, and it was somewhat disconcerting. I think in the days when the photos in that envelope you describe were taken, there were selfies, it was simply that you asked a friend to take your picture, usually with a group of friends. A lot of photos from the Great War era, when Brownie-type cameras were as exciting as camera-equipped smart phones are today, are like that. It's just that people were more social then, and had to ask a friend or passing stranger to take the picture. Today we can ignore other people and take out own of ourselves. Such is progress.
    Speaking of narcissism, our American friends seem to want to believe that it is unique to their culture, which seems very, well, narcissistic to me. http://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/americas-long-holiday

  3. Good God... can you imagine what an archaeologist would make of Facebook...!

  4. "In an age when so many digital pictures are taken - throwaway, worthless pictures, most of them"
    It was ever so - even in the days of film. Hence all the padded envelopes stuffed with old pictures that nobody is sure who the people are and which will eventually be thrown away. :0)

    1. Yes, that's probably true, but sometimes it's all we've got. My dad was so frugal (tight-fisted) that he used to ration himself to one 12-exposure reel of B&W film for our annual family holiday. This raised stress levels enormously - these exposures were so precious that woe betide anyone who compromised the quality of the snaps (snap seems an odd word, come to think of it, in this context). The strain of trying to get an entire group to keep smiling without blinking for long enough for my dad to be confident about the distance and the exposure setting (and he regularly forgot to cock the shutter, or the sun went in, or there might be a distant earthquake) - I am confident that our albums of family photos have captured some of the most wretched moments of our holidays...

  5. ps I was directed to your blog yesterday because of the campaign content. I started reading from the beginning and have rarely laughed so much. Your description of the demo wargame back in The Brethren is a gem.
    Thank you

    1. Thank you sir - I really just do the blog to amuse myself, but if someone else finds it entertaining that is reassuring :o) - regards - Tony