Carnett: Selfie is nothing new, but the self-absorption is

I took my first — and I'm pretty sure last — "selfie" in the summer of 1964.

Perhaps you're aware of this fresh utterance for a 21st century phenomenon. Oxford Dictionary recently tabbed "selfie" its 2013 word of the year.

The term refers to a self-portrait taken with a hand-held digital camera or cell phone. Selfies have become the rage. Everyone nowadays seems to be shooting them and posting the results on selected media.

It's all about utilizing technology to package oneself for what is potentially a mass market. Selfies convey the message: "Notice me. Like me. Wish desperately you were me."

But that wasn't the case back in '64. I'm reasonably certain our generation was not as self-absorbed as young people are today.

One current selfie website reports that more than a million selfies are shot daily with the intention of being shared on Facebook, Instagram, Myspace, Twitter and other social networking sites.

Are you serious? How does one arrive at such a figure? Is it close to being accurate? If so, it speaks volumes about our culture.

According to the above-mentioned website, selfie shooting is being carried out by celebrities, politicians, your friends and co-workers, and probably your next-door neighbor. Even President Obama was recently caught indulging in selfie mischief.

Another website advises novices about the do's and don'ts of selfie production. Avoid, for instance, the dreaded "duckface" selfie. Duckface? That's an overly pouty or puckery expression. I don't know about you, but puckery has never been my style.

So, with apologies to Huey, Dewey and Louie, I urge you to go out by yourself and snap yourself … yourself!

Rather than being equipped with a digital camera or cell phone to snap my '64 selfie, I rather clumsily schlepped a Kodak Instamatic 100. It was a recent purchase from the Fort Slocum PX (post exchange).

Now I'm not claiming to have been the first person ever to shoot a selfie — not by a long shot. I imagine that distinction belongs to famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, who shot at least one picture of himself a century before I did.

But I was certainly at the vanguard.

I remember the very moment of my selfie as if it were yesterday. I was standing on a seawall next to a beach on an island in Long Island Sound, N.Y. What in the world was this Orange County lad doing there?

I was a 19-year-old U.S. Army private stationed at Fort Slocum, on Davids' Island north of New York City. I wanted a picture of myself to send to my family in Costa Mesa. I was loath to ask a barracks mate to snap me and run the risk of being perceived by others in my company as vain.

So alone on the seawall, I held the camera out at arm's length, pointed it in my direction, looked not into the camera lens but at a fixed point on the horizon, assumed a serious expression, and depressed the shutter button.


When I received the picture back a week later from the PX photo lab (we used film in those days, not digital memory cards, and processing took considerable time), I saw that my final result was less than satisfactory.

First, I didn't remotely resemble President John F. Kennedy — the person I was trying to emulate as I struck a heroic pose for the photo. And second, because of the camera's fixed focal length, my face looked a bit like Doris Day's soft-focus close-ups in her popular films, which screened regularly at the time on military bases around the world.

My mug was, well, out of focus.

Third, the trees, buildings and fluffy white clouds behind me were in most excellent focus (is that a squirrel perched atop a tree limb?).

Yep, label me anachronistic. I've taken exactly one selfie in my life. One.

At my age, if I want to memorialize my haggard visage I'll glance in a mirror and let it go at that.

I refuse to be just one more public pouty face.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.

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