No Selfie Is Off-Limits

Who are we sticking it to when we take a snap of ourselves?

Selfie stick and phone with "You're mine!" on the screen

I’ve been spending a fair part of the summer researching the impact technology has on our interactions and most specifically to interactions related to training. Not exactly summer reading, but compelling in its own way.

Some of this research has got me thinking about whether co-dependent relationships with our mobile phones will lead to the world’s next 12-step program.

If I had my druthers, I would have spent the past 6-8 weeks kicking back in a hammock getting lost in a biography or a good piece of fiction while watching the ocean lap the shore. But I didn't have druthers. I had a commitment, and admittedly, it’s been pretty eye-opening to meet passionate people (the researchers) and learn about how our ever-changing world may be changing us.

There are some really, really exciting developments on the horizon, and as with everything, there are questions too, about what we may be losing. How does our new “techamour” affect our ability to be present and connected with our human counterparts?

When we have a conversation with people and we feel like there is no energy coming from them, we say it's like talking to a wall. When we make light of loneliness, we might joke about the steadfast companionship of a pet rock.

In both those scenarios, the inanimate object is a default choice, selected because of lack of animate options. But it's high tourist tide right now in NYC, and I can tell you that the number of people choosing the companionship of a selfie stick and spending more time interacting with it than the people and places around them is staggering.

Ah, the allure of the extraordinary selfie-stick. Before I go any further, let me just say that I am not anti-selfie. But seriously, how is our fascination with the act of taking them so powerful to lure us into spending our time with the virtual image of something over experiencing it live in 3-D?

And then there is the question of impact on our social norms. Do selfies now go with everything? When, if ever, is a selfie inappropriate?  Temporarily blocking the view of a concert stage in order to show yourself in the audience--cool? Or perhaps, holding up pedestrians from passing through while snapping a momento on a busy street corner—no biggie?

A colleague told me about her recent European holiday and the unexpected twist from fellow tourists when they visited the concentration camp, Dachau. Yep—you guessed it.

“Hey—stand over here.  Let’s get one in front of the crematorium.”

Sounds like something out of a summer comedy flick poking fun at ourselves, but my colleague and her family watched, somewhat stunned, as several people popped in front of the ovens just long enough to take their money shot.

I’ve often kidded about the trauma some of our training participants feel when they have to put their phones “in camp,” but the separation anxiety they experience is real. We are growing very attached to our phones. And in many cases, we are interacting with smartphones much more than we are with the people around us.

Another reason why they’re so smart.

And who can blame us? We created our ideal attention-grabber. We made sure it flashes and beeps in all the right places and can do fancy tricks to our liking. This ever-evolving, cyber-love of our life is a formidable suitor for our attention and makes us think twice about plugging into the real world.

In a recent Gallup survey of 15,747 U.S. adults who stated they have a smartphone, 52% of smartphone owners check their devices several times an hour or more frequently and 11% check it every few minutes. Aside from an infant, can you think of a single person in your life, with whom you are compelled to interact as much?  And as far as companions go, 81% of smartphone users said they keep their phone near them, “almost all the time during waking hours.”  Me too, most days.

With that kind of time commitment, it seems like it would be hard to make room for, or even notice, anything else.

I don’t think those hastily taken pictures of John and Jane Doe in front of the Dachau ovens will really do justice to the experience there, but maybe that just makes me old school.