A Selfie of An Artist As a Young Man

Sometimes I wonder if the culture of I, the culture of me — the culture of the selfie — will allow for, in the future, anything other than introspection.

Call it outrospection, the ability to view that which exists outside of the self. The ability to view other people. To look at people, places, situations, and extricate the personal bias from it.

Not “how does it make me feel?” or “how do I fit into this equation?,” but rather, who is this person, what is this place, and what is going on in this situation, without me involved?

In other words, will people be able to view things unbiased, objectively, for what they are, without their pithy opinion — or even their image — injected?

I’m not sure. It would seem that we’ve created a society of the exact opposite. A society emboldened by technology to ask not what something actually is, but more crucially, what do I think about it? Here is beauty, now let me inject myself into it, and share it with others.

I notice this more and more during election season, when I confess to be more willfully ignorant and uneducated than I probably should be at my age, but still, more knowledgeable than the average idiot who goes to the ballot box.

In fact, I think it’s more important that a person admit they don’t know enough to have an opinion than it is to feel they have to have an opinion worth sharing.

It is okay to not know, to sit things out. I would rather we be a society of completely ignorant people than a society of halfway educated people making poor decisions.

Similarly, it is okay to take a photo just for the sake of taking a photo. To write for the sake of writing. To make music for the sake of playing merely for your friends and family, or better even, just for yourself.

Also, it is okay to passively enjoy things, to not feel like you need to share your opinion, or take that selfie, or put the “I” inside every fucking thing on earth. I’m not sure earth is all about “you,” specifically; it seems like it’s more of an “us” thing, probably.

I guess what I’m wondering is, in the future — or maybe the not so distant present — will people find other people interesting, or will they only find themselves interesting?

If we breed a culture, a society, an entire generation that asks us to not analyze the way other things look, but instead to — look at me, look where I am, look what I’m doing, and look what I have to say about it — how is that good?

The other day I was downtown — I live in New York — and it was warm out, so there were something like five thousand people on this one block I was walking down.

Most of these people were looking at their phones, not necessarily other people or even the street they were standing on. I don’t know exactly what they were doing, but they could have been tweeting, facebooking, taking photos for instagram or browsing Grindr — I have no idea.

But mostly, everyone seemed kinda lost in their own world, not really paying much attention to what was happening around them. Not talking to other people. Not doing much of anything, really. There were so many people, and yet it felt like the most boring, most silent block I’d ever been on in my life.

I was sitting on a fire hydrant waiting for a friend to come down from the building she works in, when someone else I once knew walked out of a coffee shop.

He spotted me and said hello. And then we somehow wound up in a conversation about the Rolling Stones and Genesis, before our conversation splintered into a million and one other directions.

Before long, another friend walked by — someone else I hadn’t seen recently— and he joined in the conversation. Then the friend I was waiting for came down, and she joined in. There on the street, we were a crowd, we were a party, we were a scene.

And it all started because this one odd person I bumped into, I felt compelled to ask them questions. What are you up to? How is your family? How do you feel? What are you listening to?

Not, hey, let me tell you what I’m up to, how my family is, how I feel, what I’m listening to. The central thrust was: I am interested in something outside of myself.

And, I don’t know, truthfully, I feel like a fucking alien when I ask this stuff. Like, who asks anyone questions anymore. Don’t people just assume what other people are tweeting is how they feel. Don’t people just assume that the surface level is ultimately all there is.

Hi I posted a picture on Instagram where I’m smiling so yes life is awesome, don’t ask me any questions, move along, nothing to see here but pure joy and exuberance.

Never more have I felt more connected and this fucking stupid in my life. I feel like the entire world has become like Donald Trump in a debate — a whole bunch of nonsensical platitudes, no real information that suggests there’s anything deeper there.

It’s sad. Life has become the first page of a Google search. No depth, no analysis, no real facts — just the Wikipedia entry and the average star rating on Yelp.

We need to get out of our way and begin to experience life for what it really is. It would seem, to me at least, that a lot of us are living a Cliff’s Notes version of it. With a Polaroid of ourselves reading the Cliff ’s Notes used as a bookmark, for convenience sake.

So much of history, of what we understand life to be and have once been, is based on people documenting other people. This is what happened. Now, it seems like everyone is so busy documenting themselves, that there is little chance for that to happen.

If the Aztecs and Mayans were around today, they’d cease to exist without anyone ever even noticing. They’d just stop snapchatting, and then all of a sudden, some other civilization would start snapchatting and take their place. Soon, we’d forget they were ever even here at all.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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