Sartre vs The Selfie: An Existentialist Critique of Selfie- Taking

Selfie-sticks are notoriously ubiquitous in modern society, and the art of ‘selfie-taking’ may well be something that future analysts identify as being one of the defining sociological trends of this period of history. In this post, I will discuss some passages from Sartre that help to explain my feeling of unease at this rampant ‘selfie-ism’.

Straight away, let me make it clear that I am not targeting all forms of photography, or for that matter all forms of ‘selfie-taking’. Taking photos of yourself at important events (or places) can provide a record that the subject will come to cherish; they may even provide others who were unable to join you at the event (or place) with some insight into your experience. I have no truck with wedding photos.

Furthermore, there are some wrongs that selfie-taking can involve which are not covered by the criticism I shall discuss below. Last week, two members of the police force resigned following an investigation into allegations that they had taken selfies in the immediate aftermath of the Shoreham air crash. This behaviour displayed a stunning lack of compassion for the victims of the crash, and bespoke a degree of self-centredness that is not befitting of a member of civilized society, let alone someone who holds a position of respect in that society, such as a police officer. Clearly though, not all selfie-taking involves such moral wrongs.

The criticism of selfie-taking that I have in mind is not that the activity causes harm to others. Rather, I think the problem with selfies is that they often prevent the subject’s immersion into a valuable experience; selfie-takers are often so pre-occupied with taking pictures of themselves at concerts, foreign markets, and restaurants that they are no longer immersed in the experience of the thing that they think it sufficiently important to document with a selfie.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.