I’m really excited about Karen Gillan’s new ABC show, Selfie, which seems to be an interesting take on the Pygmalion (aka My Fair Lady) story. Gillan plays Eliza Dooley, and John Cho plays Henry Higgins (I guess ’cause that’s too boring a name to change?). Check out the trailer:
Gillan’s American accent is good (for the most part), and I love that rather than trying to make her “a Lady,” Higgins’ job seems to be to try to make her…a nice, thoughtful, considerate person. The focus is on fixing her insides, not her outward appearance, which is actually a more worthwhile makeover than the one so fondly remembered in the Audrey Hepburn film. (Gee, thanks for changing the way I talk and making me look and act like a snooty rich lady who looks down on people. I’m so grateful. This is so much better.)
The issue I have with the show isn’t actually an issue I have with the show, but with the idea behind the show. An idea that I’ve seen expressed everywhere lately. It’s been expressed by several friends who’ve left Facebook, swearing off it forever (until they eventually come back, because they’re missing everything). It’s been expressed by countless articles (that are spread virally). It’s been expressed by people of my generation, who were psyched for the beginning of the internet, and now long for the days of writing letters on paper and sending them in the mail.
That we’ve become self-obsessed.
That we’ve become isolated.
That we’ve forgotten how to relate to each other in a “real” way.
And I think that’s a load of horse shit.
There’s a couple of reasons why:
1) There’s no separation between The Internet and “real life.”
Many people seem to think that the Internet makes us behave in a way that we wouldn’t ordinarily, but the Internet merely amplifies the kind of people we already are. If you enjoy people, you’ll likely be be active on social media. If you’re a douchebag in life, even a closet one, you’ll likely be active on social media anonymously, trolling comment threads and wreaking havoc. The Internet doesn’t “make” anyone do anything any more than pop culture does. At most, it’s an extension of who we are as individuals, and collectively. Mob mentality existed long before people could dogpile on others in comment threads. And let’s not pretend that human beings just became self-involved creatures with the advent of “selfies.” I have centuries of war, famine, violence, and horror that say otherwise.
The Internet just makes that more visible – and that’s what really scares us. Seeing what was already there, magnified.
An acquaintance of mine recently (and begrudgingly) returned to Facebook after removing his profile, because he’d missed several major events in his friends’ lives. Events that he COULD have taken part in “IRL” even after hearing about them on the “necessary evil” of Facebook. I wrote in his comment thread: “Welcome back! The thing is, FB in and of itself isn’t the problem – it’s how people choose to use it. You want to see more people IRL? You want to call people more? What’s stopping you? Nothing. We tend to blame FB, when the truth is, FB isn’t forcing us to sit in our seats and stare at it. FB doesn’t take our choices away from us – only we can do that.”
The Internet isn’t stopping you from seeing your friends or calling your mom. Upset that people don’t take the time out to contact you off of Facebook or Twitter? Why don’t you reach out to them?
2) Relationships formed on The Internet are just as “real” as the ones you form in person.
And there are degrees – acquaintances, friends, best friends – just as there are IRL.
Two years ago, I moved 3,000 miles away from just about everyone I know and care about to make a go of it in the television industry here in L.A. Now, if we use the logic that the relationships we nurture online “aren’t real,” then that would mean that my friends and family in New York – my rocks and my foundation – aren’t my “real” friends and family anymore. And that’s just insane. Things like social media and taking selfies as I make my way out here in the Wild West allow me to share experiences with them that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
As for relationships started online? I have had long-lasting friendships that started online and grew in person. I met my friend Cathy online on a celebrity message board, and when I heard she would be coming to New York to see that celebrity in a play he was doing, I agreed to meet her there, where she introduced me to her other friends. Because of Cathy, I now have my friends Angela, Heather, Matt, and Sarah, and we see each other and take trips together at least once a year, despite the fact that we’re all scattered across the country. We email each other just about every day, and offer each other laughs, counsel, and support. I joined a theater company and was a part of it for five years because of this girl named Leigh I started talking to on that same celebrity message board and later met at a reading in New York. I met my friend Janice on Twitter, when she tweeted that she was going to a Neil Gaiman/Amanda Palmer event in NYC (the first one! The one where they announced they were dating!), and I told her I’d meet her there. She later introduced me to an amazing writer I’ve gotten to know, who has since been instrumental in encouraging my own writing. It was on Twitter that I reached out to a television writer I admired, asking if I could possibly meet up with her over coffee for some career guidance, and she graciously accepted.
The Internet is a facilitator. Nothing more. You want to engage IRL? It’s up to YOU to do that. It always has been.
My generation seems to be lashing out against social media in part because of nostalgia. Remember when we were younger and had the time and energy to see our friends all the time? To talk on the phone for hours? To go out to bars and parties and plays and movies and connect with people in person? Yeah, we’re older now, and we have shit to do. We have more complicated job situations, and spouses, and children, and lives, and the time we can dedicate to a social life is more limited. And just as we would’ve had to do before the Internet, if we want to nurture our relationships, we need to make time and do that.
It used to be that people just accepted the petering-out of relationships as a matter of course. Now, the Internet is allowing you to preserve relationships that would have otherwise ended years ago. Without social media, you likely would’ve lost touch with most of your family, everyone you went to high school and college with, AND that cute guy you met at the bar.
Social media allows you to be more engaged and active in your relationships. Because with every status in your feed, there’s a choice involved. Do I want to keep up with this person, or not? And you have that choice now, whereas before the Internet, Life would’ve made that choice for you. Once your schedule became a certain level of busy, or their schedules became a certain level of busy, you would’ve just stopped hanging out altogether. Now, even in the midst of our busy lives, we can keep up with each other and determine whether or not we want to see each other in person based on real-time information, not memories.
3) This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.
People always think that The Good Ol’ Days were so much better. The truth is, they weren’t better or worse. They were exactly the same. Sure the technology is different, but people haven’t changed. Back when the telephone was first invented, people thought that it would cause people to lose the decorum of face-to-face interaction. Accepting invitations over the phone (as opposed to RSVPing to a paper invitation sent in the mail) was considered undignified. So was saying “Hello?” when you answered.
Etiquette changes as technology changes, but people stay the same. Perhaps AT&T had it right in the beginning when they asked people to take The Telephone Pledge (1910): “I believe in the Golden Rule and will try to be as Courteous and Considerate over the Telephone as if Face to Face.”
We apply the Golden Rule to life, and to the phone; why not the Internet, too? It’s pretty simple. Well, it’s no more or less difficult than “doing unto others” in life is.
People have always taken photos at special events, and it’s always been a way of sharing moments with people who couldn’t be there, as well as remembering those special moments for yourself. Things like Instagram just make it easier to share those moments with more people. Sometimes, “selfies” are taken for practical reasons – like, you’re somewhere by yourself and you want to take a photo of yourself in front of a thing. Other times, “selfies” are taken to capture a moment in our lives. “This is me after finding out about my new job!” “This is me getting ready for that big party I’ve been excited about!” “I love my new haircut! Check it out!” Just because you’re the focus of the photo, doesn’t mean you’re “self-absorbed.” The whole reason behind taking the photo is so that you can share events and moments in your life with other people. And they share pieces of themselves and their lives with you. Just because the way we share with each other has become more visual doesn’t make it any less worthwhile or important. Sure we can send someone a letter, call them, email them, or tell them about our special moments in person – but a picture’s worth a thousand words, and every selfie tells a story, too.
Tell Cindy Sherman that “selfies” are self-involved and a waste of time. Tell Joseph Cornell that finding things that other people made and “remixing” them into a new piece of art doesn’t take talent or skill. What we think of as “the death of civilization” today will likely become Art tomorrow. That’s the way it always seems to work out. We need to stop telling kids to “get off our lawns” and start recognizing that they’re creating a new world, and we can either take part in it – sharing with them – or we can gripe ourselves into our graves.
I like sharing, personally.
4) We always have a choice.
I’m not saying that people don’t take things to extremes. I have friends who, whenever I see them in person, can barely make eye contact with me because they’re scrolling on their phone most of the time even though they’re getting together with me IRL. But meanwhile, whenever I go out, I generally take one or two photos to capture the event, and then I PUT MY CAMERA AWAY so that I can live in the moment and enjoy the people I’m with. This, like everything else, is a choice.
In the trailer for Selfie above, there’s a moment when Gillan’s character tries to take a photo of herself and Cho’s character, and he stops her, telling her to live in the moment. And that kind of annoys me. Because the “moment” doesn’t stop the second you take the photo. It was happening before the photo, and will continue after the photo. Meanwhile, with the photo taken, you can share that moment later with people you care about. Stopping to take one or two photos when you’re having a moment you’re enjoying isn’t going to cause society to collapse! People have always done that – they just couldn’t share them right away.
People express annoyance not only at selfies, but at food photos, or sunset photos. But to me, they’re signs of people absorbing and appreciating what they have. In order to take a photo of a sunset, you first have to stop and realize that it’s beautiful and majestic. You have to take it in before you realize you want to capture it. When you take a photo of a great meal, you first have to appreciate the fact that you’re about to eat something delicious that a chef worked really hard to make look amazing. When you take a photo of yourself, you’re either sharing your vulnerability or your confidence, and either one is brave.
To me, selfies, “food porn” photos, and sunset photos – really, any photos that people tend to take with their phones these days – are a sign that we’re trying to express gratitude for what’s around us and want to share it with each other.
How is that a bad thing?
Oh, and by the way – let’s stop and think about the fact that Selfie is a television retelling of My Fair Lady, which was a musical retelling of a George Bernard Shaw play, which was itself a retelling of the Greek myth of Pygmalion. Then stop complaining about how this generation is unoriginal and sending us to hell in a handbasket.