I just received an email, photographs attached, from a friend in Maine, who with another friend of mine is undoubtedly having a great time. I don’t know for sure because I didn’t open the attachment. I didn’t need to.
Because it is a selfie, it goes without saying that it does not picture my friends frowning or frustrated by bad weather or not getting along. Instead, there will be bright smiles on their side and resentment on mine.
I have just realized why I dislike selfies. There is a huge gap between what the sender intends (to include you in the fun) and the receiver receives (excluded from the fun). It’s not like a postcard. The card comes by snail mail, and you barely look at it. By the time it arrives, he or she may or may not be having a great time, in a place which may or may not be as beautiful or picturesque as its idealized image.
But the selfie! You are sitting at the computer or on the bus with your iPhone when along comes this intrusively vivid reminder of what you are missing and can’t even buy.
This feels terrible. Do other people experience this, and if so, how can I have done this to them? The picture I sent from outside a revival theater on Paris’s Left Bank! Or the view from my terrace of the ocean at sunset!
Or the interior of New York’s Central Park, where I got lost in May.
When I got home, I discovered I had inadvertently hit the video instead of the photo button and had recorded my entire walk. I found it so fascinating I had to send it to a few people. “Lost in Central Park!” What an adventure – an Andy Warhol film! I can still look at the video with tender amusement.
It was then, or rather that experience coupled with my recent refusal to open a selfie, that made me realize that this form of electronic epistle is doomed by its very nature to erode communication and therefore friendship. The rarely resisted impulse to send our latest thrill-filled moment reveals the narcissist in all of us, the failure of empathy, the inability to remember our own feelings of resentment when the time comes for us to unleash an update on the world.
So please, no more laughing pictures from Maine or Ireland or Indonesia. No more selfies unless it’s raining or you’re being stopped by a cop or have lost your passport, or you are having a lousy time that only my presence could relieve.
I make exceptions for what one friend calls “baby spam,” meaning pictures of my friends’ grandchildren. Still, one or two is enough, and no videos, please.
Molly Haskell is a film critic and author.