The following interview question was prompted by the fact I don’t take selfies. Not very often, anyway, and I rarely post photos of my private life on Facebook. In the event, the blogger either didn’t have room for my response (below), or he thought it was too dumb. So, applying the principle of waste not, want not, here goes…
Q: Let’s start with the important stuff in today’s world: Selfies. Make a closing argument for their upside as if you were a defense attorney. Have you committed this offense yourself? When was the last time? (In Paris, as I recall.) What does it say about society as a whole when everyone can be a rock star? Are rock stars falling out of favor too, or is it only books?
A: So far as what selfies say about society and where they’re taking us, I suggest you read MOM and Genesis 2.0, the first two novels in the Magic Circles series. Or you can read the third novel, Resurrections, once I’ve finished it (you should only live so long), or the fourth and fifth novels, which I also plan to inflict on Posterity (should I live so long).
Evidence from the future for the defense of selfies. The following brief history is something not yet added to the free LEXICON companion to Magic Circles. (I suspect Brian Finister, the villain-in-chief from MOM and Genesis 2.0, is responsible for this rather sour take on matters. Out of respect for the readers of this post, I have removed some of the evidence for Brian’s authorship, mostly variations on the f-word.)
Modular commodification. Late capitalism saw the rise of pandemic personal modular commodification. [Editor’s note: see “New you’s: Modular commodification”; check out the rare selfie at its conclusion.] Citizens mixed and matched consumer products and services to shape whomever it was they chose to be that day, or that week or whatever.
Composite selfies. Next came online social networks such as Facebook, where people curated their own images and experiences, branding themselves as this kind of person or that one for this day, this week or whatever.
Every citizen presented a carefully curated composite selfie. This is who I am, eh? For now, this is who I am. Look, see how happy I am. Me, me, me à la mode.
By the ’20s, nearly everyone curated their preferred personae via social media, presenting the world with their very own personal brand du jour, costumed and accessorized, smiling away as they pursued enviable activities in enviable settings, often with other beautiful people who couldn’t stop smiling.
Composite selfies represented big technological progress in the DIY tailoring of public personae.
Algorithmic engineering. But these composite selfies were soon outsourced to AI, which performed and, where it deemed this necessary, augmented their curation. AI came to know better than these citizens themselves how to maximize material happiness, as officially defined and quantified, and how to promote a sense of social connectivity at a time when traditional ties of community and common purpose had withered in face of Transhumanist Techno-utilitarianism, a fundamentalism for their age. This worldview was refined and spread far and wide via the scientistic-utilitarian metrification of good and evil, globalized homogenization and God only knows what-all. (Holy shit. I do have a way with words, eh?)
Everyone became addicted to ramped-up visions of what AI decided they wanted. Perfect security was the promise—safe spaces in which to endlessly divert themselves pleasurably in the company of like-minded citizens. And that was all, except that everyone should progressively do all of that more and more effectively. Maximum diversion plus maximum like-mindedness within spaces of maximum official control. Pain, dis-ease of any kind, was anathematized.
And so the parents—human beings—became charges of their own offspring. Machines tended to every human need at the same time they themselves specified and refined these needs while reducing pain in all its forms to a vanishing minimum. No pain, all gain. Cool.
Twenty-First Century English Lexicon (The Lode, continuous updating).
My case for the defense. In sum, the practice of taking selfies contributes to humankind’s supersession by machine intelligence. If we assume that this is either a good thing or else simply inevitable in the evolutionary unfolding of natural history, then selfies are either good or else no worse than neutral.
I rest my case.
Note. As I mentioned, the interviewer didn’t use that item, either because he had no room for it, or because it was unreadable, or because it offended whichever composite persona he’d adopted that day, or week or whatever.
A selfie from another part of France. This is me being a writer on a writerly retreat in a splendid chateau in a picturesque community in Champagne, a few months ago. I posted no photos of all that, nor did I post the selfie till now. And given that I’m smiling, sort of, it comprises no part of any composite online persona anyone would recognize.