The year 2013 was noteworthy for a birth. Not the arrival
of Prince George in Great Britain – although I wish the royal baby well – it was
the word “selfie” that grabbed my attention. In case you slept your way through
the year just ended and missed the addition of the word to the global culture, a
selfie refers to the pictures people take of themselves – you can spot them
doing it by the distinctive way they hold their digital phones and the funny
faces they make. The result is not a pretty picture in any sense.
pregnancy was longer, harder and more public than Kate Middleton’s (or the
Duchess of Cambridge, to give her proper title).
According to Oxford
Dictionaries, which voted it “International Word of the Year,” “Selfie can
actually be traced back to 2002 when it was used in an Australian online forum.
The word gained momentum throughout the English-speaking world in 2013 as it
evolved from a social media buzzword to mainstream shorthand for a self-portrait
The most famous – or infamous – selfie is the one taken by
President Barack Obama together with British Prime Minister David Cameron and
Danish Premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt at the memorial service for former South
African president Nelson Mandela, as if any of them lack photographs to pass on
to his or her children and heirs.
It turns out that, courtesy of Tumblr,
Instagram, Twitter and the wonders of the Web, “Selfies at funerals” is a
recognized genre. And to think that my first instinct at a grave is to make sure
I’ve turned my phone off rather than to shoot myself.
The fact that
Mandela’s death will be remembered for that extremely awkward group shot and the
fake interpreter of sign language is pathetic in its own, very 2013, way,
although among the most intelligent uses of smartphones that I have seen is the
animated phone conversation between two deaf friends.
It was also very
2013 that the world discovered that, in the supposed interests of American
security, the country which prides itself on its principles of freedom spies on
friends and enemies alike, but despite its vast intelligence apparatus, no US
security detail thought to check the identity of the self-confessed deluded man
standing close enough to the president to hit him with one of his outrageous
Photos of The Photo were reproduced around the world in
seconds. They clearly showed a sour-faced first lady not joining in the party –
maybe she wasn’t invited – but at least maintaining the sort of decorum you
might expect from world leaders at a gathering ahead of the funeral of one of
the most prominent people of his generation.
Gossip columnists predicted
that the photo marked the end of the marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama, and
it can’t be easy being married to a man so clearly in love with himself yet
stalking German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The selfie is a strange act. I
admit I don’t get it (or do it, publicly or in private). But then – much to the
disgust of my son – I don’t own a smartphone (or maybe that should say that no
smartphone owns me, tempting me to do things that defy common sense).
enjoy taking photos more than being in them; when I take a picture of stunning
scenery or the wonders of nature, I see little point in adding my own image.
It’s not that I lack an ego – no weekly columnist is deficient in that
department – but if I want to remember a moment or place, it’s enough for me to
have the picture I took.
I have, however, had a few occasions that I
consider missed opportunities over a 25-year career at The Jerusalem Post. My
photo album includes pictures I took of the Dalai Lama during the first of his
visits to Israel in the 1990s, but none of the two of us together. (The Dalai
Lama, by the way, did not attend the Mandela memorial – something to keep in
mind as the status of the late South African leader goes from being a hero to a
Nobody is perfect and that certainly includes Mandela.) When I
recently mentioned to a friend that I regretted not having my handshake with the
Dalai Lama on record, he pointed out that I could easily Photoshop myself
I think that’s part of what bothers me about the Selfie Generation –
on the one hand, it shares way too much information (so much so that the term is
now routinely summed up as TMI) and yet on the other it cannot trust the
information it receives. One of the best end-ofyear pieces I read, a piece by
Luke O’Neil on Esquire.com, noted the lack of accountability in the digital age.
And if you “liked” or “shared” the fake photo of the Pyramids or Sphinx in the
snow, for instance, now is your chance to feel foolish.
The way that
information can so easily be edited or deleted worries me. How can we bring up a
generation to appreciate fact-checking, careful handling of information – or
even the simple rules of grammar and spelling – if everything can so easily be
changed? We live in an age of: Post first, think later; whatever.
certain values need to preserved – not out of snobbery, but because they count
THERE ARE definite double standards when it comes to
information sharing as an ideal.
Here I add my voice to those who say
that Jonathan Pollard, the US naval intelligence analyst caught spying for
Israel, committed a crime, but thanks to Edward Snowden we know that the US has
regularly listened in to Israelis from prime ministers down. Now, after 28 years
in prison, would be a good time to let Pollard go. It’s not like the NSA won’t
be able to keep its eyes on him.
I also find it strange that Julian
Assange, the man behind WikiLeaks, claims to be driven by the belief in freedom
of information above all, but his own operation and funding completely lacks
You can clearly take the idea of the naked truth too far.
This year has seen several instances of IDF soldiers showing a side of Israel
rarely seen – including the backsides of five female rookies who apparently
thought it a good idea to drop everything but their helmets in the barracks and
record their posteriors for posterity.
They were reportedly devastated
when the uncensored photos went viral (raising more than morale among Israel’s
male supporters) but where did they think the photos would end up? As I noted in
June when the story broke, part of the change in attitude has to do with
technological developments. When we had to take a film to be developed at a
neighborhood store, we naturally exercised a lot more self-censorship even if
fewer people could ultimately be expected to see our photos.
we got dressed and left the Garden of Eden, we all have something to hide as
well as what to be proud of. And those addicted to posting selfies on the social
media should be warned: People like me don’t hit “like” on such pictures, we’re
more likely to snap back with an unflattering comment. Well, you get the
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem