The Danger of Selfies
I was walking to teach a class on a Wednesday, I think, and it was raining, and whenever it’s raining, I have the half-sarcastic thought that I’m “in nature.” Like, somehow, the fact that it is raining, reminds me that I’m outside, and that while I’m sort of moving from building to building, man-made edifice to man-made edifice, that somehow, this is all capital-n Nature, that all – even those massive garbage islands in the ocean – are somehow contained within a pure and undefiled state of existence, that we might call capital-N Nature, not just trees and animals and etc. And it was raining pretty hard, too, which I like, especially while being under an umbrella, because an umbrella is a kind physical embodiment of what I feel is my almost-constant self-conscious cloaking mechanism that I use against the larger world: averted eyes, a mainly blank facial expression, an often confused, far off look, as though I were contemplating the fleetingness of life by watching distant clouds slowly morph and distinegrate, but what I’m really doing is trying to avoid human interaction because, you know, I don’t know what to say to you. But I sometimes do stare at clouds as though they’re little individual selves curiously becoming nothing right before me, and you’d be surprised at how just thinking that thought alone would make people averse to your presence: it’s impossible to explain, but completely empirically true. Anyway, on the way to my next class, rain raining pretty hard, three people (a guy and two girls, I think), were under one enormous umbrella, each with a cell phone of some kind held out at arm’s length, photographing themselves in the rain. I felt momentarily endeared to them, these people capturing this moment. They were smiling and laughing and kind of pushing each out from under the umbrella, into the rain. One of the girls took a picture of herself catching rain on her tongue. It was nice enough, a moment of people being people, though they did check their pictures immediately after taking them, which seemed suspect somehow, but I was willing to just observe, detached and calm. After this though, I started observing beyond my little bubble-of-self contained by my umbrella, and I saw other people doing similar things. There were people walking to class, holding a phone out, taking a picture as the rain came down. There were people under trees, pretending to get some cover. There was one kid, I’m not kidding here, who, after running from his car, umbrella-less, and was completely soaked, quickly snapped what appeared to be an annoyed-looking selfie, then went into the building where his class was being held, kind of stamping along, mad at all of life. There were other people like mock running. I saw a group waiting at the entrance of one building and then, one by one, sprint to a tree another tree another building and finally the entrance of their destination, and at the same time they were running, they were taking pictures: as though they were participating in an athletic event of some kind. There were, of course, some other people, just hurriedly walking, but I could almost intuitively sense them thumbing their phones in their pockets, waiting for a moment to prove: rain, and they were in it, had experienced it. What an experience, rain. What an experience, me, doing something, anything.
So anyway, I kept walking. On the campus where I work, there’s a big flight of concrete stairs, outdoors, leading from a lower part of campus to a higher part of campus, and some people were jumping down the stairs to a large puddle. I was about to go up the stairs, but I waited and observed. Some students were like taking a picture of themselves as they leapt off a high step to a landing where two sets of stairs met at a right angle, and a largish puddle had formed. They were basically jumping into this puddle and trying to catch the effect of the water splashing them as they took a picture. It seemed pretty complicated, slightly creative, and generally confusing, especially with the addition of the picture-taking, but it was, again, another individual experiencing another experience that needed not be experienced but only recorded so that they could know they had experienced it. So, on one such jump, some student jumping from a high up step onto the landing with the puddle, this student tripped as he landed in the puddle. He took this huge leap, from very high up, his body way off the ground, and as he landed, he tripped badly, dropped his phone which went skittering off the steps and into some bushes, and then what I saw happening before it even occurred was that this kid was now falling out of control down the next flight of steps, and the kid’s body pounded into a group of seven to nine high school students (who take Freshmen classes on our campus and are easily delineated by their diminutive stature and higher voices and who were all walking up this flight of steps) and in order to steady himself, the jumping-now-falling kid was waving his arms around wildly and he seriously tagged this one girl real good right in the chin (I actually saw her head lurch backward and heard that distinctive smacking thwap of a punch) and this sent her tumbling backward down the steps into her now retreating group of friends, all of this occurring slow-motion-y, her body backward down the steps on her butts, now covered in water. My mouth, I kid you not, was open. Not all of high school kids fell, most of them just kind of retreated back down the steps, and helped the girl who got accidentally pegged in the face with a fist not fall so hard. After this occurred and both groups stopped what they were doing, and after this leaping student briefly checked on the group of high school kids, he went hunting in the bushes for his lost phone. I could hear him saying things like, No way. No no. Not today. One of his more concerned friends was asking the girl, who basically got punched, if she was alright, and it turned out she hadn’t been hit in the chin like I thought, but had been hit in the eye. Her friends, after pulling her to her feet, gathered around, assessing the wound, and they variously said things like, Oh yeah, that’s bad, and, It’s black already, etc. Through tears, while the other student searched for his phone, she said she was fine, and as the high school kids walked away, I observed them each taking a photo of her face, and then she pulled her phone out and took several selfies to see the damage that’d been done. I walked up the steps with an atypical sense of care, and really tried to listen to the rain.