Is There a Moral Problem with Taking Endless Selfies?

There are apparently some high-stakes moral implications to taking selfies.

Why are "love" and "not love" the only reactions we express when it comes to taking selfies? When baseball announcers recently mocked a group of sorority girls for taking selfies at a ballgame, they voiced a popular, if old-timey, objection: selfie-taking has gone too far (and this). 


Of course the announcers' actions proved the girls' point, that a little diversion helps to fully enjoy a baseball game. But the point isn't baseball. It's about the selfie. 

No sooner than the video went viral, and the Internet did its pithy comment thing, were the girls invited on The Ellen DeGeneres Show (VIDEO). Ellen, herself famous for this celebrity selfie, presented the girls with a $10,000 charitable donation by selfie-stick maker Shutterfly. It was an impressive marshaling of pro-selfie forces, but what were they marshaling against exactly?

[Y]ou have to choose: to live or to recount.

Moral philosopher Jonathan Pugh, quoting famous French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, argues that selfies have the ability to rob us from our own experiences. From Sartre's novel Nausea:

"Man is always a teller of tales; he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others; he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his life as if he were recounting it. But you have to choose: to live or to recount."

"This observation," writes Pugh, "seems highly relevant to the phenomenon of selfie-taking, and the prevalence of social media. More than ever, we are now surrounded by the (highly stylised) stories of others, and it is easy to be sucked into the trap of wanting to continually create narratives for ourselves, to be seen as having ‘adventures’. Yet, this can prevent us becoming immersed in the experience of our existence. For a tangible example of this, consider selfies taken at events where the enjoyment of the event requires the immersion of the subject in the experience of it. Consider for example the act of selfie-taking at music concerts or in front of famous paintings at art galleries. In their desperation to recount, the selfie-taker robs themselves of the experience of the event, and its real significance."

Taking selfies isn't the only thing keeping us from experiencing life's significance.

What Pugh gets wrong is his hard distinction between "the event" and the act of taking a selfie. As the sorority sisters and baseball announcers prove, commentary on baseball games is part of what makes a baseball game enjoyable. We can even expand to say that a baseball game needs commentary to be a true game (otherwise the players are competing before an empty stadium). Baseball announcers have one form of commentary. Sorority sisters have their own, each serving the distinct social needs.

Shutterfly's commercialistic defense of selfie-taking, shamelessly exploiting domestic violence to do so, is as reprehensible as rude Internet commentary directed against young women innocently trying to enjoy a baseball game. Taking selfies isn't the only thing keeping us from experiencing life's significance. Abject commercialism and indulging Internet trolls are two others we should consider.

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Image courtesy of YouTube

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