The London restaurant was elegant, the food delicious, the service good. With his back to the room, my husband didn’t see the beautiful couple arrive and sit down opposite.
Both in their mid-20s, they were real head-turners. The woman – dressed in the flimsiest of lace tops on a bitterly cold evening – had long black hair artfully arranged over one shoulder, cheekbones to die for and a wide, sensual mouth.
Her boyfriend was handsome, with a chic goatee and well-toned muscles under a tight black polo-shirt, testifying to hours in the gym. Their sexy looks were well-matched but that wasn’t why I started to stare. They just didn’t stop snapping selfies. On and on it went until I became so riveted my husband told me to stop gawping.
Food arrived and was picked at, more selfies were taken and presumably posted on Instagram or Snapchat followed by endless scrolling to check the number of ‘likes’. Smartphones ruled that table. And, I presume, their lives.
Bel Mooney shared her thoughts on how culture is been changed by selfies and social media
As Gorgeous Girl pouted for yet another identikit selfie, while Fit Friend watched approvingly, I wondered what on earth was going on. What were all those photos for?
On holiday many of us have asked a waiter to take a snap, as a souvenir of a special place. Such photographs bring back memories of sun, relaxation and happiness and make me nostalgic for real cameras.
But selfie culture isn’t about those things. On a recent trip to Italy we were horrified and depressed to have to dodge ‘selfie sticks’ in the most beautiful places and, worse, in front of great works of art such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
I doubt if many of those we saw holding phones out, or on those terrible sticks, would even remember the name of the church behind them or the masterpiece of Renaissance art.
Selfie culture is only interested in beautiful scenery and great art as a foil for look at me, me, me. Everything is a mere backdrop to overweening conceit.
A couple of years ago, in Crete with some of the family, we booked a boat trip off the spectacular Elounda coast. Among the passengers was a glamorous, surgically-enhanced woman of about 40. Her wizened 60-plus Frenchman, who had all the appeal of a lump of wood, looked like Christmas had come early. As the boat slid through sea-green waves under an azure sky, past a coastline of staggering beauty, the woman took snap after snap — of herself.
She made that ridiculous pucker (which, bizarrely, women seem to think makes them look good) then snapped, again and again. I swear she looked nowhere else but into her smartphone, held at arm’s length, while her bloke sat beaming at his buxom, pouting trophy.
Bel says her husband told her to stop gawping at a couple taking selfies at a restaurant. She now questions why people have become obsessed with their own image (file image)
Why are these people so obsessed with their own image? If the smartphone had never been invented, would they have looked at scenery, buildings, art or even each other? Did the smartphone turn them into self-absorbed fools, or was the tendency already there?
On the subject of self-absorption, it’s worth citing Kim Kardashian, the Queen of the Selfie. She once posted a selfie (on Twitter, I think) of herself from behind, in a long mirror – wearing a white thong swimsuit which gave due prominence to her famous buttocks.
Minutes later her husband Kanye West, posted his response: ‘I’m comin’ home — NOW’. So millions of people were invited to imagine his arrival, panting, at the bedroom door. Oh yuk!
Was that about making others envious? Or was it ‘about’ nothing at all? I suspect the truth is right there — in the total vacuity of selfie culture. Kim Kardashian and her like only define themselves in terms of their millions of followers, TV viewers and press coverage. The only ‘reality’ is the image and what it reflects back is a vast emptiness.
Bel questions if teen girls would copy Kim Kardashian’s (pictured left) sexy selfies to get the attention of a boy they like
So-called celebrities (cue Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and the Beckhams, as well as every C-list reality TV nobody) post selfies online for the admiration of slavering fans and the more they do it, the more they feed off themselves, like crows on carrion. Lord help them if they fall out of favour! Celebrities do this to become their own profitable ‘brands’, but the danger comes when they encourage millions of young people, who may be desperately insecure, even mentally fragile, to believe that ‘branding’ is all-important.
These young people constantly compare themselves with others who are (they think) more beautiful, more popular – and whose success is estimated according to the number of ‘likes’ their selfies receive.
Worse, it can have a pernicious effect on social norms and behaviour. So if Kim Kardashian posts a sexy selfie and her own husband tells the world it’s a turn-on, then why wouldn’t a 14-year-old girl listen to the boy she likes who says she should do exactly the same thing?
Who would have thought, even ten years ago, that world leaders like Barack Obama and Emmanuel Macron would take selfies — Obama at Nelson Mandela’s memorial ceremony, Macron on a visit to discuss Brexit? Why do we not judge this nonserious behaviour harshly?
Bel believes digital narcissism has penetrated our culture as ‘selfie’ has been added to the Oxford Dictionaries (pictured Kim Kardashian taking selfies with Naomi Campbell)
Do we all have to get down with the kids? Every nano-second of every minute of every day, cyberspace is filled with billions of images of pouting or grinning people, seeking admiration from others but most of all giving egotistical adulation to themselves.
In 2013 ‘selfie’ was judged to be the word of the year by the Oxford Dictionaries. These are the people who ditched words like ‘acorn, ‘buttercup’ and ‘otter’ in favour of ‘cut-and-paste’ and ‘selfie’. It proves just how digital narcissism has penetrated our culture.
You may think it doesn’t matter. Yet remember the myth in which that beautiful young man Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pond, but every time he bent to kiss it the surface of the water broke up, shattering his image into a thousand fragments of light.
The ancient Greeks understood that empty vanity which feeds off itself until there is nothing left is just as destructive as hopeless, unrequited love.
As I watched the good-looking couple in the restaurant pout and preen I wondered how Gorgeous Girl and Fit Friend might respond to each other if reality intervened between their two complacent screens.
Who has time for selfies or social media when there’s so much to say to the person you adore that you don’t realise the time?
Who snaps away when their beloved is so unhappy about something that her eyes are red with tears and the mascara runs down her cheeks? Who takes a selfie when ill, or scared, or old?
If people are only concerned with the surface of relationships they will one day look in the mirror and see the lonely horror of having nothing at all.