FORT WORTH (Christian Examiner) — We all learned a new word in 2012: "selfie."
For those of you who may still be in the cultural dark on this one, a "selfie" is a self-portrait photograph typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone held at arm's length and then shared on social networking sites. Time magazine considered "selfie" one of the top 10 buzzwords for 2012. By 2013, the word was listed as "word of the year" and had become commonplace enough for inclusion in the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Apparently, selfies make up 30 percent of the photos taken by people ages 18-24. Amazing.
In April 2014, the advertising agency iStrategyLabs produced a two-way mirror capable of automatically posting selfies to Twitter via the use of facial recognition software. Even more amazing. Toby Keith sings "I Wanna Talk about Me," but apparently we now want people to see pictures of us talking about us as well.
Ellen DeGeneres, host of the 2014 Academy Awards, took a selfie with 11 other celebrities in the picture, and within the first hour, the photo was retweeted 1.8 million times, setting a new record.
Last year, an article in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" was all about educating the selfie generation. Some universities have adopted a curricular approach "fit for a generation of oversharers and made the courses all about the students." Apparently more me-centered courses are on the horizon. As Elizabeth Beaulieu, dean of Champlain College's Core Division says, "What does every 18-year-old want to talk about? Themselves."
Actor James Franco wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times defending his frequent use of selfies on his Instagram page. His explanation is interesting. Selfies should not be seen as an expression of egocentricism, according to Franco. Instead, a selfie cultivates a "visual culture," because it "shows, not tells, how you're feeling, where you are, what you're doing. ... A texting conversation might fall short of communicating how you are feeling, but a selfie might make everything clear in an instant." Interesting point.
Here is Franco's money quote: "Selfies are tools of communication more than marks of vanity (but yes, they can be a little vain)."
Yes they can, Mr. Franco. But let him who is without vanity cast the first stone.
The problem with all of us is vanity. As Al Pacino, playing the role of the Satan in the movie "The Devil's Advocate," said, "Vanity, definitely my favorite sin!"
The film opens with defense lawyer Kevin, played by Keanu Reeves, gaining an acquittal in court for an obviously guilty client. With the help of Satan, Kevin rides the wave of success into a prestigious law firm and ultimately to the destruction of his own family. He finally sees the light and refuses to cooperate with the devil.
At the conclusion, when Kevin has been given a second chance to morally redeem himself, he is easily coerced by Satan, disguised as a reporter, and his own wife into giving an interview that, it is promised, will make him a star. The movie painfully depicts the fact that, ultimately, all Kevin craves—and the rest of us right along with him—is the same success and adulation. Hence, the famous closing line uttered by a grinning Pacino: "Vanity, definitely my favorite sin!"
In one sense, we are all "selfies." Self-assertion; self-centeredness; self-conceit; self-defensive; self-indulgent; self-pleasing; self-seeking; self-sensitive; and the list goes on. Christians are supposed to be people who have denied self and who have died to self, according to Jesus.
So how do we reach the selfie generation?
- Love them.
Love them for Christ's sake. There has never been a generation that won't respond to genuine love.
- Respect them.
It's often too easy, especially for those of us who are older, to think of the selfie culture as just too "weird." Avoid a critical spirit.
- Understand them.
Focus on what makes them tick. Learn to understand their culture and ways of thinking.
- Engage them.
We can do the first three well but never get to first base if we don't engage.
- Give them Jesus.
They will soon discover that Christ is much more interesting than they are!
Dr. David Allen is the Dean of the School of Theology and the Director of the Center for Expository Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth where he holds the George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry. This commentary first appeared here and is used with permission.