Understanding and Embracing the Selfie: A Millennial Muse-Pro Perspective

How do I know another year has gone by far too quickly? Well it is #MuseumSelfie day again. Time to share, like, repost, and laud each other for the places and things we’ve seen, and ways we have grown over the past year since the last selfie-day. Ok so maybe that is a little melodramatic, but for those of you who may not be considered a millennial, or gen-y, or describe yourself as a member of the selfie-generation, this really is how many young people see and document their lives. 

Often my older relatives ask me, but why do you have to be in the picture? Why not just snap a photo of the thing? Well, truthfully – I am not an expert photographer. If I wanted to simply have a picture of my target subject, I would buy a print, or go on google images. That’s not the purpose of the selfie however. The purpose is to see ME and MY FRIENDS with the subject. That’s how memories are able to rush back in a very more real sense. It’s not about ego, it’s about sparking that ‘a-ha’ moment in your memory. What you were wearing, who you were with, your haircut or style at the time – it all plays into remembering that very particular moment of YOUR life. Why you went to the museum that day, who was there, maybe it was a first date, or anniversary? Maybe you were playing tour-guide for visiting relatives? Maybe it was the first time you saw a dino-skeleton and you want you capture that excitement on your face! Maybe you just got a cool new pair of kicks and wanted to wear them out so thought to yourself ‘hey I’ll go romp around the museum for a while!’ (yes that was a very specific example, and yes it comes from life experience).  

To give a very specific example on how much selfies mean to some people, note the selfie of myself tied to this article. I have other pictures from the Hirshhorn museum that day, but this one makes me actually remember that day vividly. I had freshly cut short hair. I remember it kept getting caught in the audio guide because I didn’t know what to do with it being so short, and while staring at a bunch of hairless Giacometti sculptures I thought ‘that’s it! shaving my head!’ (PS – I did not actually shave my head) I also remember from this picture how no one was around. I took this photo of the Kusama in the sculpture garden because I felt so at peace. It was the afternoon on a weekday, the off-season for tourists. I was the only one in the garden, and you can see the slight breeze through my hair. Beautiful day with the sun in my eyes so the Ray Bans were necessary. These things make me more fully remember. With these sensory memories sparked, my love for that day and that museum are heightened and deepened. It was a brief moment in my life that I wanted to remember, and this selfie helps me far more than just snapping a pic of just the pumpkin itself. 

You see, selfies have been around almost since the invention of the camera. People have always been documenting themselves and where they are and what they are doing. So why do so many still frown-upon the selfie? Is it because it disturbs the museum experience? Is it because it is too fun for some topic deemed ‘too serious’? Many museums are taking the practice of selfies and giving opportunity for them to be a real part of your museum visit which is great. Things like selfie-interactives in apps, or physical and dedicated selfie-moment spaces outside an exhibition; again, we want to capture memories. We are our memories, and what better keepsake than a picture of you with what was memorable or your favorite piece in the collection. Also, let’s not forget that if we capture fun or cool looking memories, we will share on social media. And if we share on social media, our friends will see and want to have the great time we look like we are having in the picture. The gift shop is for prints, the smartphone is for selfies. 


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