Thursday, June 23, 2011

Teens Perfect Art of Cellphone Self-Portraiture

My brand-new 13-year-old daughter is in love with my iPhone. One of her fondest wishes is that we buy her one. Well, if wishes were horses, and all that. Both her mother, my bride, and I agree that is an unnecessary expense — considering she has a laptop, iPod Touch and an adequate cell phone on which she can text faster than I can type. And I’m pretty fast.

What she loves to do most of all is take photos of herself. That is an activity that the latest model makes easy, since it allows one to switch the “viewfinder” so that you can see yourself on the screen and aren’t just shooting blind. No more trying to center one’s reflection in the silver apple on the back of the phone.

That was a brilliant move by Apple. Taking photos of oneself with a cellphone is clearly a national obsession with a wide swath of the younger generation, especially teen-aged girls. An added twist to these self-portraits is to use a mirror so that the finished result is an image that clearly shows the cellphone being used as a camera.

Abbie is quite creative in this new art. I admire her ability to shoot really amazing photos of herself, armed only with a cellphone camera and her imagination. The other day I stood in front of a mirror with my iPhone and attempted to recreate some of her interesting poses, with the horizon tilted, phone visible, big smile on my face. Of course, I looked like an idiot and quickly deleted these sad attempts. Do not try this at home if you are over the age of, say, 35. I’m being generous at that.

Girls in their teens definitely view this as the preferred way to create new Facebook profile photos. I confirmed this by checking Abbie’s Facebook page, which I do regularly as part of my parental duties. She doesn’t necessarily appreciate the snooping, but that is one of the rules for her being allowed to have a page. I personally am a minimal user of Facebook, mainly using it to alert folks I have a new column — and to keep up with my daughters.

The reality is that this social networking site has become the primary method of communication among a large portion of the younger populace. I still don’t know what to make of this phenomenon, though with more than 500 million active users, it is a safe bet that Facebook is not a temporary craze. I don’t have the same confidence that Twitter will be around years from now. But I learned some time ago not to predict the future on matters of technology — or anything else for that matter.

At least with Facebook there is a somewhat permanent record of the communication, which isn’t true with text-messaging. Young people have largely shunted aside email in favor of texting, to the point that a colleague told me she has to force students to email their communications instead of texting. It is pretty difficult to maintain a string of conversations with more than one person via texting, something that is straightforward with email.

Sorry, got sidetracked. Someone sent me a text.

I googled “iPhone self-portrait” and naturally was supplied with links to discussion boards and tips for taking better self-portraits. And, of course, there were links to dozens of folks who have posted self-portraits online, even made YouTube videos as they shot a photo of themselves. Now that’s complicated.

I found a fellow named Noah who, beginning in 2000, shot a photo of himself every day for six years, then made a six-minute video showing the results in rapid sequence. Noah is undoubtedly a creative, interesting young man, but after about two minutes I was sliding the fast forward control on YouTube. But it did reassure me that our 13-year-old is simply following a rather innocent trend with her cellphone self-portrait fascination.

Someday I might compile all her efforts into an Andy Warhol-like series on a single canvas and call it art. This might launch a new career, chronicling a pretty teen-age girl’s various poses in front of a mirror, phone held high. If not, at least I’ll have a cool collection of photos of our daughter at a special age.

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