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Smile, Click, and Contemplate—Reflection Upon The Memorialized Selfie

December 13, 2013

Oh sweet, sweet selfie. How can anything this fun to do be so, so bad for you? Apparently, even some of the busiest people in our global community are not immune to this engaging habit of photographic documentation, and once again, technology has us all pondering over the appropriateness of public cell phone usage. First, it was movie theaters and restaurants, and now, memorial services for the newly departed? As evidenced by the photo, in which US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Smidt are gleefully crunched together while Ms. Thorning-Smidt snaps away, not every moment of the late Nelson ImageMandela’s recent memorial service held moments of solemnity. I can’t exactly settle upon the most fascinating aspect of this picture. Is it the carefree look on three world leaders’ faces as they utilize an enthralling piece of modern equipment? Is it the seemingly disapproving look on Mrs. Obama’s face as she loyally stares straight ahead, ignoring the camaraderie next to her? Or is it the two shadowy figures lurking behind, dutifully passing up the once-in-a-lifetime chance to photo bomb? Whatever the intent behind the shot, public opinion is not only divided over the appropriateness of the act, but also split, once again, over the subject of media submersion. Technology has become such a vital part of our modern lives that it seems almost necessary to remember events by documenting them in the most contemporary way possible, and equally easy to forget the public’s potential to misconstrue such actions. In the words of the photographer who took the shot, Agence France-Presse photographer, Roberto Schmidt, “I captured the scene reflexively… totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have…for me, the behavior of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural” (Christine Hauser, “‘Selfie’ of Obama Was Misinterpreted, Obama Says”, New York Times, 11 Dec. 2013).  In addition, memorial services sometimes better honor the deceased through celebratory measures, and those types of services are frequently insisted upon by the departed before their deaths. In this situation, one can’t help but wonder—What would Mandela Do?

Appropriately Celebratory or Disrespectfully Clueless? I’m still not sure. Maybe, though, I should take a picture of my pondering self as I attempt to decide.

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