On June 7, 2010, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 4 to the world.
It was an instant success, selling out its entire inventory of 1.7 million phones in just three days.
The iPhone 4 had a new feature for Apple: a reversible camera. At the touch of a button, the lens went from looking ‘outward’ to looking ‘inward.’ Instead of focusing on what you were looking at, it focused on you.
Thus was the selfie born.
The selfie feature proved remarkably popular. So popular in fact, that last year more than 24 billion selfies were uploaded to Google’s server. Apple had touched on something that really resonated with the American public. It turned out we loved to take pictures of... ourselves.
Selfie culture proved so dominant that in 2016, we elected our first Selfie President, a man clearly in love with... himself.
Prior to 2010, photography had almost always been about capturing what was in front of you (instead of you). The lens faced outward, and so all of the pictures that you took were of the world before you. Taking photographs forced you into the world; to participate in the world; to engage with it. You were behind the camera, everyone else was in front of it.
The selfie reversed all of that. It reversed our relationship to the rest of the world. The selfie turned us inward.
How perfect then, and in a way how very predictable, that we would elect a man who was perhaps the most self-obsessed person to ever occupy the White House. The first Selfie President. For him, it was, and it remains to this day, all about him. How HE got Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to go after Qatar, the ‘source of terrorism.’ How big (or small) his fingers were; how big (or small) the crowds at his inauguration were; how big (or small) was his margin of victory. The list is endless. His self-obsession knows no bounds. His camera is always pointed inward at the only thing that really interests him ― Donald Trump.
Selfie after selfie after selfie...
When he addressed the CIA in January of this year, standing before a memorial to those who gave their lives for their country, his speech was about... himself.
“Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me,” he remarked.
Even when he was at his most “presidential,” in his first address to Congress, the camera was pointed back at his only favorite subject, himself. He identified Carynn Owens, recently widowed wife of Chief Petty Officer William Ryan Owens who had been killed in the raid in Yemen in January. Owens got a long and sustained standing ovation. Trump commented: “Ryan is looking down right now, you know, that and he’s happy, because I think he just broke a record.” He was referring to the length of the applause.
His daily tweets are replete with this inward turn, this looking only at himself (and how badly the world treats him). They read like a litany of selfies in text ― me me me.
And now, as he starts to engage (or not engage) with the world around him, he brings his selfie view of the world to foreign affairs.
“The world is laughing at us.”
So he turns inward. His withdrawal from the Paris Accords is an act of selfie. His conduct in Brussels, shoving the prime minister of Montenegro out of way (for the photo op ― how appropriate); standing aloof from the other heads of state; taking us out of the TPP; refusing to commit the U.S. to Article V at NATO; his obsession with building walls, with keeping others ‘out’... These are all the actions of a man deeply steeped in selfie culture. No matter where I am, no matter who I am with, the only thing I am really interested in... is me.
This is the world of selfies.
This is the world of our selfie president.
The thing about the selfie world is that at the end of the day, you may have a million pictures of yourself, but you are actually all alone. That is the way Donald Trump increasingly is in the White House, and it is the way America increasingly is in the world at large. Alone.