Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 24, 2013

Nathan Payne: Maybe we're generation lost to 'selfie'


---- — I’ve never been known for choosing my words particularly wisely.

My wife, Kate, will be the first to acknowledge my ability to trip over my tongue and fall straight into trouble — this is the part where she usually begins to scowl at me.

That’s why I need to apologize in advance to 30-somethings in the coffee shop down the street and around the world for what they’re about to read. Well, that is if they have time to set down their smartphones long enough to read a few hundred words.

You know who you are.

And I’m not saying I wouldn’t be in the same boat if I were sitting at a table sipping my grande, nonfat, dirty chai, poking away at Facebook updates on my iPhone. Sure many of my “friends” are people who wouldn’t make my Christmas card list, but how else should I fill my free time?

I sure wouldn’t want to do something that might interfere with my right thumb’s ability to scroll through posts about whose kid ate what for breakfast. Heck, doing something like being a good parent or volunteering for a community cause would take effort.

I’ve stood along side many of you on the sidelines of my son’s youth soccer games answering emails and perusing life updates while I should have been watching the action on the field.

For the generation whose parents invented the trophy for participation, effort is the last thing we would want to trouble ourselves with.

But it was a radio report I heard while driving to work Tuesday morning that jolted me out of my connectivity coma.

The stalwart public radio personality droned along reading news of bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, NSA spying and health care problems in the background as my Jeep hummed along. Then came the word.

“Selfie,” he said.

That’s right, in the midst of real news came the word that likely will define my generation. It’s the Oxford University Press’ word of the year, he declared.

The word, defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website,” beat out all the other worthwhile contenders.

My generation, the one that invented an entirely new level of narcissism with the advent and popularization of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, has officially secured its place in history for the self-absorbed glob of human pudding we’ve become.

It’s an all-new low for a crop of humanity that seems hell bent on reaching the bottom of the heap.

I spent the rest of the drive to my son’s school stewing about the announcement. I was so consumed that I glossed over a conversation with my 5-year-old about his new boots with an “uh-huh,” and a “that’s great, buddy.” Then, while walking out of his school after dropping him in class, I pulled my phone from my pocket and began to flick through work emails.

My head down, reading my first email of the day, I walked head-first into one of the school’s front doors as it crept closed in front of me.

I glanced around to see that nobody witnessed my blatant surfing-while-walking incident and headed for the parking lot.

I threw my phone into the passenger seat of my Jeep and rubbed my forehead for a moment, checking to make sure there was no visible injury in the mirror.

I also resisted the strong urge to shoot a “selfie” with my phone and post it instantaneously on Facebook.

It made me wonder how much time we really waste on social media surfing. A Nielsen study from July 2012 declared that Americans spent 121 billion minutes on social media sites that month.

That’s more than six hours for each person in the United States. It’s also six hours per person that wasn’t spent parenting, volunteering, working or doing any number of other more worthwhile activities.

It is also six hours I have pledged not to spend staring at a 4-by-3-inch screen next month.

Reach Record-Eagle Features Editor Nathan Payne at