I have long arms. Junior year in high school, our math teacher told us that most people’s fingertip-to-fingertip span equals their height, which is probably one of those ratios that the ancient Greeks figured out when they weren’t busy with epic architecture or nude wrestling. And sure enough, when we measured everyone’s arms, the ratio held true for most of the class. I was the freakish exception—6 feet tall with 6-foot-4 arms. In high school you can at least hope that you’ll have a growth spurt that will erase any physical deformities, but as it turned out, I’d attained my final form. The caterpillar would not become the butterfly, but a caterpillar with goofy monkey arms.
Little did I know that a strange intersection between technology and culture would eventually render my simian limbs an asset. I might have a hard time buying shirts, but I’m great at taking selfies. Or at least, I was. I don’t know when I last took a selfie, but I do know it was my last. There comes a time when every craze is at its end, and selfies have run their course. If you want to be the last one to shut out the lights, take a selfie while doing CrossFit in your Vibrams.
There are three events that prompt me to pronounce the death of the selfie. First of all, a few weeks ago I received a selfie text from my dad. I’m not a theological scholar, but I believe the prophets predicted this moment, warning, “Whence the image of thine father appears before ye, scribed by his own self, demons shall soon roam the earth and tear asunder the union of Jay Z and Beyoncé.” Everyone agreed he looked pretty good, though.
The second case of selfie abuse happened in Chatham, where we were at the beach with our friends Matt and Kristen. Three high school girls set up just down the beach from us, and Kristen was initially entertaining the idea of recruiting one of them to baby-sit that night.
That is, until we realized that the girls weren’t at the beach. They were “at the beach,” by which I mean they went to the beach for the sole purpose of showing everyone how much fun they were having at the beach. They never actually read a book or took a nap or idly tossed a shell into the waves. The entirety of their afternoon was spent striking various selfie poses and huddling around their phones to assess the results. Still, we hadn’t entirely rejected the idea of foisting our kids upon them until one girl disappeared behind a dune and re-emerged wearing a different bathing suit. More photos ensued.
“Did that girl just do a wardrobe change?” Kristen asked. “Never mind on the baby-sitting. They’re horrible people.” We saw them again the next day at a different beach, where they repeated the whole process. Everything that happened in Chatham was dutifully recorded, provided it happened within two feet of their faces. These girls were so self-absorbed that if one got eaten by a shark, her last terrified thought would be “I didn’t even get a chance to turn my flash on!” We barely know what Shakespeare looked like, yet every 15-year-old is going to need a rack of servers in Iceland just to store the files from last weekend’s sleepover at Kaytielyn’s house.
Lest you think I’m picking on girls, let’s talk about the third horseman of the selfpocalypse, the selfie stick. I was in France last month, and selfie sticks were all over the place, toted nearly exclusively by middle-aged dudes. The selfie stick, if you’re not familiar, is basically a pole with a shutter button on one end and your phone on the other. It’s like having really long arms or a friend, neither of which is likely if you own a selfie stick. Narcissus himself would’ve thought it’s maybe a little much. However, if you’re in a big crowd, you can also point your camera outward and get a cool shot of all the other phones on poles, rising from the sea of humanity like dork periscopes.
The mystifying thing about selfies is that people take them even when there are other human beings in the immediate vicinity, ones who could hold the camera more than a few feet away. But nobody asks for help, because they want the selfie angle, free of the implication that another person was involved in any way: This is a photo of me, taken by me, documenting a place where I am. Anyone else in this shot is an extra in the grand drama known as my life.
Enough, I say. It’s time for a new perspective—say, 15 or 20 feet away. That’ll give everyone plenty of room to do skinny arm.