Friday, October 31, 2014

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Selfies

Karl, scoot over here, I said.

"I'm not really comfortable doing that, Kid."

Don't flatter yourself, old man. I want to take a picture of the two of us. Karl and I were at The Tilted Windmill, our favorite Dutch bar, to watch a game from Dutch Eredivisie Soccer, the Netherlands' professional soccer league — FC Utrecht was beating FC Eindhoven, 2 – 1.

"I know that. That's what I'm not comfortable with."

What? I said. Are you ashamed to be seen with me?

"No more than usual," he said.

I gestured to Nicholaas the bartender for two more beers. Put it on his tab, Nicky, I said. Maybe I can get him drunk enough that he's not ashamed of me anymore.

"Oh, don't be such a baby," growled Karl. "I just don't like selfies"

What? How can you not like selfies?

"You mean besides the fact the word just sounds stupid? That it's one letter away from 'selfish?' Or that it's completely shallow and narcissistic, and shows the world that the picture takers care only about themselves?"

That's harsh, man. I just wanted a photo of us together, since I don't have any. I slumped my shoulders for effect. I mean, you're a good friend, but I don't have anything to remember you by when you finally die.

"That's pretty manipulative, even for you." Karl took a big swig of his beer to wash out the saccharine taste. "Fine, if you want a picture of us, get Nicky to take it. Just don't take it yourself."

After Nicky snapped our photo — where I later discovered Karl had rolled his eyes — I defended the art of the selfie.

It's not a big deal, I said. People have always wanted to photograph themselves, ever since cameras were invented. We just couldn't do it easily. We had to focus, had to hold still, had to leave some extra distance between us and the camera. Even with digital cameras, we could never be sure if we were in the frame or not. Now, with our cell phones, we can see what we're taking a picture of. Rather than getting people to do it, we can do it ourselves.

"But what's the point?"

Because people want to share their experiences and adventures with friends. Instead of handing your phone or camera to a stranger — who could run off with it — and asking them to take a picture of you in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, you can do it yourself.

"Yeah, but then the photo becomes about you, and not about the experience. You have a collection of photos of you, not places you've been. I'd rather have a photo that shows as much of God's creations or man's constructs as possible and not to have my giant melon in the shot."

You're right about that, I said. You do have a giant melon.

"No bigger than yours, Great Pumpkin." Karl asked Nicky for two more beers and pointed at me. It was my turn to buy. We sat in silence for a few minutes, watching one of the FC Utrecht players fake an injury. After a thoughtful draught, Karl said, "I read an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal recently that said the US Forest Service at Lake Tahoe had to tell people to quit taking selfies with bears they saw in the wild."

Reno, as in Reno, Nevada? We live in Indiana. Why are you reading a newspaper over 2,000 miles away?

"I'm well-read," said Karl. "I read three or four newspapers a day."

Oh, bull! You saw it on Facebook. I saw the same article in your news stream.

"That's not important right now. What's important is that when these idiot campers see a bear, they try to take a picture of themselves with it. And turn their back on it. Just so they could say 'hey look, I was near a bear.'"

I can see the safety concerns, but still, it's pretty cool to be that close to a bear.

"Yeah, but why not just take a picture of the bear? It's gotten so bad that some people actually run toward the bear just to get a picture. The Forest Service is worried people are going to be attacked."

At least their loved ones will know how they died.

"But it goes to my point. Some people are so obsessed with getting selfies, they're not only missing the sights, they're putting themselves in danger."

I think you're fighting an uphill battle, Karl. Selfies are here to stay.

"Maybe so, but that doesn't mean I need to be a part of the Selfish Generation," said Karl. "I prefer to contemplate the wonder of nature and the marvels of our creations, rather than shoving my face into everyone else's experience."

I'll remember that the next time I read your autobiography.

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