Digital Photography, Creeping Narcissism, and the End of the World

Whomever scheduled the Olympia High School prom didn’t care that I should have been at the Pre-Classic in TrackTown USA last Saturday night. The true Head of the Household made it clear that I was expected to attend “prom pictures”. Back in the day, prom pictures meant standing in line during the dance to spend sixty seconds getting a picture or two taken by a professional.

Not anymore. Not even close. Now since you can take as many pictures as you want for free, prom pictures are a digital extravaganza.

We got to Tumwater Falls Park at 6:30 p.m. Five nicely dressed couples and lots of parents sporting expensive photographic gear, along with some sibs, and a grandparent or two. Pictures along the river’s edge. More pictures in front of the falls. More pictures on the bridge over the river. Guys only. Girls only. More pictures involving play acting a martial arts fight. All with an eye towards bolstering one’s Facebook self. Despite being an endurance athlete, at 8:15 p.m., I was byrned out.

For the Digital Photography generation, a lengthy prom pictorial is just the tip of the iceberg. In upper middle class suburbs, you can’t just have your senior picture taken. You have to schedule a shooting with a professional. During the shooting you’ll change clothes, travel to a few different locations, and I suppose, feel special. And don’t even think of mailing a text-based graduation announcement. You have to have craft a photo-montage of your graduate through the years. If you plan ahead, you might be able to use parts of or the same collage in your quarter (you like your child), half (you like your child twice as much as quarter page parents), or whole-page (you truly love your child) year book dedication to your graduate.

This may be more of a female, Tyra Banks inspired thing, but a favorite after-school or weekend activity for many teenage girls? Getting friends together for a photo-shoot. Different clothing, music, serious, silly, inside, outside, five hundred images to choose among, edit, and upload to Facebook.

Look at me. And leave a cryptic comment so I know you’ve seen me. The more pictures taken of them, the more convinced many teens become that the world revolves around them.

This may be the most cynical of my 745 posts. I acknowledge, life is better today than when I attended the Cypress (California) high school prom in 1980. Grandma Byrnes always loves the personal calendar that Seventeen whips up using digital pictures from the previous year. But I can’t help but think there’s a cost to nearly free digital photography. It’s accelerated a child-centeredness that promotes self-centeredness.

The digital photography generation doesn’t enjoy better self esteem or mental health. If anything, the more pictures they take, the less value each one has, and the more self conscious they become.

Look at me. And tell me I’m alright.

13 thoughts on “Digital Photography, Creeping Narcissism, and the End of the World

  1. What If: Those African tribal members who, years ago, didn’t want their picture taken, because they believed that a piece of their soul was taken away from them if they were photographed: What if … They Were Right

    • Great question. There are still lots of indigenous people in the world who don’t want their soul captured by cameras. I ran into a few in southernmost Mexico a few decades ago.

    • But you still have to love me unconditionally because I’m your father. Oh wait, it’s the parent that’s supposed to show unconditional love, right? I’m confused.

  2. “If anything, the more pictures they take, the less value each one has, and the more self conscious they become.”

    Which could well account for the suicides we hear about those who are bullied, demeaned or “unliked” on FB. Excellent post Ron

    Oh yes. Nice play on the word “byrned” out, Mr Byrnes

  3. This post makes me thrilled I do not have any teenaged sons or daughters caught up in BS such as this – my children are older, thank God, and neither of them yet has children of their own.

    That approach to life at that early age does not bode well for their ability to endure the “peaks and valleys” which invariably arise throughout life.

    Brilliant post but sad, sad commentary about where these chldrens’ heads and focus are . . . not to mention the parents who abide this behavior.

    I wish them all the best but I see severe mental problems already developing. I predict a very large percentage of them will be “byrned” out on life before they have any concept whatsoever of what life actually entails.

    • Thanks. Despite my hyperbolic title, I’m not as pessimistic. Psychologists would remind us that teens have always been self-centered. I think the take-away is a counter-intuitive truth—that the more people help others, the more tranquility and joy they experience.

  4. Like I used to enjoy creating picture with a classic Leica. You had to wait (imagine that) to get them developed. You took careful pictures because it cost money to process whether they would good or bad. I can’t help but think that the quality was better.

    • Exactly, but you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. There will not be a slow photog movement of any significance. I think we need to help teens manage social media, but the teen years are about increasing independence. You can’t take away an 18 year old’s screen time. So how do we help them control social media without it controlling them? While granting them the increasing autonomy they need during adolescence?

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