Navel-Gazing, 19th Century Style

When cranky old people – like me – get to complaining about today’s youth, who probably are doing pretty much the same thing the old people did in their own youth and thought was near brilliant, a helpful reminder about “Change” is instructive.

Self-involved, ego-centric, what’s-in-it-for-me attitudes and behaviors are nothing new.

It’s not Facebook’s fault. Or Twitter’s. Or the Web’s. Though they are all handy scapegoats. And, most assuredly, are enablers.

The novelty of today’s selfie is in its breadth of dissemination, not the impulse to create.

Clive Thompson’s “Snapshot Nation” in the September issue of “Smithsonian” indirectly makes the point about the more things change:

Thompson reminds readers that once photography was able to leave the studio and the medium became affordable and convenient, people turned the thing on themselves.

With technological innovation, the medium got beyond wet plate technology and iron rods to hold sitters’ heads stationary, and the snapshot was invented. This occurred first in 1888 with George Eastman’s Kodak camera and, especially, after 1900 with the introduction of the Brownie.

“You push the button, we do the rest.”

What could be easier? Or less skillful? Or cheaper? The 1888 device cost a whopping $25 – about today’s price for a higher-end iPad, Thompson reports. But the Brownie, that cost only a buck.


People, Thompson notes, “took shots of themselves . . . attempted to capture moments of evanescent action . . . [and] mugged for the camera, even turning around to display their rear ends.”

Shocking, but true.

Plus c’est la meme chose.

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