Snap Judgments

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snapshot.JPGSome folks say that they and cameras do not get along. But few people can say, as I can, that they’ve killed one with their face.

It’s remarkable it didn’t happen sooner. I was a gangly, pimply, brace-filled, bespectacled child in junior high, often taunted by classmates, teachers and the biology lab’s hamster mascot. It was only in high school, when I lost the braces, that I started breaking cameras. It happened when I was getting my very first driver’s license (and attempting to flirt with the girl behind in line): Just as I was getting my picture taken, the camera suddenly stopped working—departing to a happier place where its lens would never have to look at another pimply-faced teenager again. The sparks and smoke, I thought, were a nice touch.

All of which makes me entirely unsuited to modern society, where some teens and 20-somethings have come to expect being on camera every single day. If they’re not recording YouTube videos, they’re being followed by security cameras. If they’re not posing for pictures for their friends, they’re taking pictures of themselves.

It’s true. While Rembrandt was known for his self portraits, it’s only in the 21st century that photogenic self-love climbed up to the level of art form. According to a New York Times article by David Colman, taking photos of yourself has become a critical, even indispensable, skill.

"People are so much more attuned to adjusting how they look in front of a camera," said Keith Gould, the creator of Daily Mugshot, a free Web site that allows users to automatically upload a picture of themselves every day. (The results can be embedded, like any picture, on your own Web page, and they can be played in rapid sequence, like an animation.) "Now they make precise decisions about every part of their face and angle of their head."

As a result, the self-snap is fast becoming as vital a facet of how we present ourselves as our clothes, figures or voices. Photographing oneself easily and well is a talent that, like being able to download music via mind control or reduce whole paragraphs to acronyms at warp speed, is now a given for young people. And it is a skill that, if you are single or younger than 50, you cannot afford to neglect — especially if you are both.

Pretty interesting, no? But what I found really intriguing is that folks who take and post pictures of themselves tend to shun the usual insecurities we have when posing for someone else. When we take a picture of ourselves, we somehow embrace our flaws a bit more—our blemishes, our hair (or lack thereof) our outlandishly large ears—the things that make us less-than-perfect, but more human.

This would seem to be a bit counterintuitive at first. After all, most of these self-made pictures wind up landing on someone’s Facebook page—and very often the introductory avatar. Facebook pages are often modes of introduction for folks, so wouldn’t it make sense to put the most flattering picture of yourself you can find?

No, says Sam Gosling, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. While it’s true that people make snap judgments about people based solely on their photos, he says in the Times, many believe that the more candid the photo, the more truthful it is—and thus more likable, perhaps, the personality behind it.

Which tempts me to dig through some boxes, find my old driver’s license and post the picture that a second camera managed to snap of my 16-year-old self. Oh, wait … I think that license spontaneously combusted some time ago …

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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