- The Selfie Generation: How Our Self Images Are Changing Our Notions of Privacy, Sex, Consent, and Culture by Alicia Eler
Skyhorse Publishing, 2017, 294 pp. ISBN 981-510722644, $16.99 paperback.
The Selfie Generation: How Our Self Images Are Changing Our Notions of Privacy, Sex, Consent, and Culture is designed to be read as both a memoir and an analysis, or a memoir based on research. The book's stated goal is quite ambitious: to provide a brief history of the selfie, to determine its psychological and social impact on selfie users, to share a life lived with social media, and to speculate about the future of selfies.
While the complex cultural phenomenon of the selfie escapes the author's capture, Eler herself emerges as an open sharer, seizing and maintaining the reader's attention. The author distinguishes her position from "the old-school critiques of the selfie-generation" (114), in favor of identifying with those who use the selfie in "crafting a narrative" and in larger projects that may be life-changing (114). Her memoir work centers on the consideration of the irresistible, empowering options presented by technology, and how the selfie generation uses these options in ways designed for the approval of the public. Obsessed with social media, Eler is a selfie-taker speaking about herself at the selfie moment of our culture, embracing [End Page 392] its energy, its conversations, and its possibilities. Because selfies confirm values of "presentist leanings" (Goodnow 129), the author's choice of selective memoir tactics to respond to a recent cultural experience proves fruitful, especially in creating a sense of a dominant dimension of a single life. As a memoir, The Selfie Generation reinforces the value of connectivity and performance for self-reflexive questioning of individual motives and functions of engagements with ever-unstable acts of self-portrayal. Narrating her subjective positions, Eler wishes to prepare ground for illuminations of what we have come to identify as "facial society" (Belting 214), or what Eler proposes calling "a selfie-focused mono-app culture" (58). Readers will note her multidimensional "I-now," her intense "there-ness," her modes of holding space in the production and consumption of self-images to represent her life as exemplary for her generation.
Detecting signs of the decline in the connectivity and civility of selfie culture, in a recent article Trischa Goodnow emphasizes the importance of selfies for gauging changes in contemporary culture's perceptions of relationality. Unlike Goodnow, Eler emphasizes the implications of the practice for interactive and reactive networking among her friends. She does not dwell on larger "generational" networks. While acutely aware and concerned about the threats that digital exposures present—and of the consequences of the destabilizing hypermediatization of our directness—Eler highlights the social rewards and the personal values of support and exploration gained in the frenetic public traffic of personal images. She advances an affirmative view of digital photography, and the modes of looking and thinking that arise from it. She strongly defends the economy of likes and dislikes, and photographic desires, while continuously articulating concerns about social media hype and fatigue and what Lunenfeld would call the "dubitative" character of these images.
Alicia Eler is a journalist, visual art critic, and a former staff writer for New York online arts magazine Hyperallergic. She approaches the selfie not as a cultural theorist but as a practitioner who analyzed selfies in "The Selfie Column," a column on Hyperallergic attending to the interesting manifestations of this phenomenon. We learn about her childhood in a Chicago suburb, her early "nerdy" self, her developing practical abilities, her experiences with self-portrayal, her participation in the emergence of diverse portable personal technologies, and her memories of 9/11. A millennial, she testifies to her nonconforming cisgender, female, and queer life that is marked by technological discoveries and adaptations. Her "heavy texting" and experimental "sexting," her projects predicated on relinquishing privacy but also developing friendships, and her online branding are forms of self-actualization or of self-care. Goodnow believes that "being popular enhances the...