Perez: Selfies and Smelling Flowers

by Sarah Perez | 5/25/16 5:30pm

If I had a dollar for every “political selfie” that has graced my Facebook newsfeed this election cycle, I could probably purchase a selfie stick for everyone on campus. The likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, made her way to Hanover last July with challenger Bernie Sanders following closely behind. To this day, I am neither “Ready for Hillary” nor “Feeling the Bern,” although my social media accounts back then may have suggested otherwise. For weeks on end after their visits, I scrolled through a deluge of political selfies featuring the two candidates. This is not to excuse GOP candidates from the same behavior, as I soon discovered that those across the partisan aisle are also suckers for a selfie. Albeit less frequently, the smiling faces of Rand Paul and John Kasich also popped up on my feeds more than I would like to admit. Despite recent revelations that Facebook and other social media platforms might be less than neutral, that is not the direction I would like to take this piece. Instead, I would like to take a few moments to hash out our generation’s brand of high art: the selfie.

Here at Dartmouth, we are all old enough to remember the emergence of the selfie. We can recall a time when awkward self-taken headshots were not a mainstay of popular culture. To go one step further, we probably had a direct hand in the creation of this art form. We were true trailblazers in middle school, snapping pictures of ourselves on grainy flip-phone cameras and texting them to friends or posting them online for the world to see. With this in mind, it’s only natural that our proclivity for taking selfies has followed us into our college years. After all, we did grow up with them, right?

That being said, we are not alone. Everyone from my almost 80-year old grandmother to President Barack Obama seems well-versed in the art of the selfie. But Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” or Dante’s “Divine Comedy?” Maybe not so much. Earlier this month, tourists at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming snapped a selfie with an adorably fuzzy bison calf as they loaded the scared animal into the back of their S.U.V. Although a woman was tossed by a bison after a failed attempt at a so-called “#bisonselfie” just last July, clearly these people missed the memo on keeping a safe distance from wildlife in the park. Upon delivering the calf to a ranger station, the tourists expressed that they were trying to protect it from colder weather. Last Monday, the calf was euthanized; habituated to humans and rejected by its herd. According to the National Park Service, the calf began routinely “approaching people and cars along the roadway.” A similar incident occurred last February in Argentina when beachgoers plucked a baby dolphin from the water and began passing it around for selfies. The rare La Plata dolphin later perished of dehydration and was left in the mud.

While the pointless loss of animal life is tragic in and of itself, these stories aren’t just billboards for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. What about when selfies incur a human cost? While this may seem far beyond the realm of imagination, it really shouldn’t be. Last September, 18-year old Christal McGee of Hampton, Georgia was driving with three friends at around 10 p.m. when she allegedly plowed her Mercedes into the back of Georgia resident Wentworth Maynard’s Mitsubishi. In this case, investigators only have a handful of he said, she said accounts to go on — and some selfies. McGee is now being sued by Maynard, who claims to have suffered a traumatic brain injury from the accident. According to his lawyer, a reconstruction of the accident revealed that McGee had been driving at 107 m.p.h. — and sharing it all on Snapchat. Among its many features, Snapchat has a filter that clocks the speed at which users are moving and captures it in a photo. Although many have called on Snapchat to eliminate the speed filter for incentivizing reckless driving, there have been no changes to the app thus far. Maynard is also suing the creators of Snapchat for negligence.

That being said, McGee’s 107 m.p.h selfie was not the only one snapped that evening. Strapped into a gurney and sporting a gash on her forehead, McGee took another selfie moments after the crash. Apparently, one just wasn’t enough. She shared it with her friends on Snapchat with the message, “Lucky to be alive.”

People often say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet, this is a gross understatement. Had things taken a turn for the worst that September night, a single selfie could have cost a great deal more than a thousand words. It could have cost four lives — not to mention thousands, if not millions, of words left unsaid.

Each morning before I left for preschool, my grandmother and I would walk around her front yard and smell the flowers in her garden. Aside from being the best cook I know, my grandmother has a green thumb that could rival Martha Stewart’s. As my mom strapped me into the backseat of our family’s station wagon, she would call to me from the porch, “Smell the flowers!” Almost twenty years later, she continues reminding me to do so. This odd little phrase is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten, and so I feel compelled to share it. Why do we insist on memorializing every moment, no matter how insignificant, with a selfie? Why have we become so beholden to the standard of “pics or it didn’t happen”? Why aren’t we, instead, living each and every second to the fullest and smelling the flowers? Hint: The answer won’t be in your Snapchat story.