The Perks of Being a Wallflower Taking Selfies
Just in case you needed to know, here is a fun fact: 93 million selfies are posted per day.  Since that report is coming from Google, specifically on data from Android devices, it merely reconfirms that big tech is watching us. What is our obsession with being seen? What motivates 93 million self-portraits to be posted online each day?
In How to Disappear, author Akiko Busch examines why invisibility is not necessarily a bad thing. Walking readers through the many examples from nature and human history, Busch investigates whether being inconspicuous is not necessarily against our human nature. She argued, “When identity is derived from projecting an image in the public realm, something is lost, some core of identity diluted, some sense of authority or interiority sacrificed. It is time to question the false equivalency between not being seen and hiding.”
While selfies are an easy example to cherry-pick from popular culture, the 24/7 connection we have to the technological world around us is developing at an uncontrollable pace. Without sounding too much like a conspiracy theorist, most Americans have devices all over their home listening to them all in the name of improving the “human experience” or “consumer experience.” Alexa, Portal from Facebook, Apple HomePod, and the Google Nest are just the tip of the iceberg when tech and app companies have the legal right to access your data, images, and even the microphone on your phone.
In this work on humanities and philosophy, Busch invites readers to consider what kind of effect such connection is having, not only on our rights and privacy but our mind and soul. Were we built for constant connection, every waking and sleeping hour of the day?
Instead, what if what we need is to disappear, becoming invisible by immersing ourselves in nature, opening our souls up to wonder. But this isn’t just a call of the wild, but a call to examine the way we interact in the relationships given to us. For example, how many of our close friendships and familial relationships are muddled by the distraction of technology, busy schedules, and not leaving work at work?
Ultimately, we are asked to consider not only are we seen but do we truly see ourselves. As the author asks what makes us seen and unseen?  As a person who recently walked through Grand Central Station, I deeply connected with the illustration of how thousands of people can fill a shared space, and yet, in the busyness of where we are going, we do not see the people around us. As she poetically put it, “Though carried by the currents of commuters streaming through the vast marble corridors and canyons, I rarely bump into anyone. Instead, we are all turning and swerving in and improvisational choreography, our pace quickening and slowing in sync with those around us. I am certain it is sustaining for regular commuters to experience this each morning.”
Theologically, there are some powerful implications here, not just for self-identity but for if and how we see our neighbors. Maybe Jesus knew precisely what he was talking about that if we genuinely want to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor, we must also come to terms with how we love ourselves.
Maybe the place of self-love begins by reflecting on what Busch stated, “We all want to be recognized and identifies precisely and accurately. We want the images we have ourselves to be true…But maybe we need to think less about identity by mere deciding who we are and then letting it go.”
 Zetlin, Minda. 2021. “Taking Selfies Destroys Your Confidence And Raises Anxiety, A Study Shows. Why Are You Still Doing It?”. Inc.Com. https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/taking-selfies-anxiety-confidence-loss-feeling-unattractive.html.
 Busch, Akiko. How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. (New York: Penguin Press, 2019), 9.
 Ibid, 212.
 Ibid, 87.
 Ibid, 214.
7 responses to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower Taking Selfies”
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Andy, I really like this point: “Maybe Jesus knew precisely what he was talking about that if we genuinely want to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor, we must also come to terms with how we love ourselves.” I feel that we often separate the “love God” and “love your neighbor” commands, but perhaps they are intertwined and inseparable – i.e. you cannot do one without doing the other?
I don’t think it is possible to love God without loving our neighbors. It didn’t seem to work for the ancient Hebrew people that experienced defeat and exhale as a result of thinking they could praise God with one hand while disregarding or taking advantage of their neighbor with the other hand, especially the orphaned, widowed, and poor. See Isaiah 1:11-18.
The common theme from Jesus’ parables on the life to come was whether or not people loved their neighbor, seeing the Divine in them.
Andy: Nice exposition of Busch’s thoughts. I also thought a lot about the struggle to be seen, to have friends and to belong, but also the desire to have privacy. I guess that struggle has always been there, given human nature, but technology really does add an extra dimension to the struggle.
Andy: I resonate with your statement, “But this isn’t just a call of the wild, but a call to examine the way we interact in the relationships given to us.” As you also stated, perhaps the pathway Christ laid out for us in terms of our priorities and daily communing with the Father and others would allow many of the ‘to-dos’ we have to naturally find their place and identity in light of what is truly important.
Andy, too funny, you would find a random fact as 93 million people/da posting selfies! Crazy, sad, and ridiculous… oh wait, how many selfies did I post this week?!
Interesting thoughts at the end too. There is some freedom to your consideration: “But maybe we need to think less about identity by mere deciding who we are and then letting it go.” A rooted identity in Christ. To know that we are loved and accepted. We are His servants; His beloved children. If only I could live with this solid understanding every day, I would only imagine I would be more “free” and hold on less tightly.
Andy, thank you for your thoughtful and playful post. I especially appreciated your question: “how many of our close friendships and familial relationships are muddled by the distraction of technology, busy schedules, and not leaving work at work?” Muddled is such a great description of this reality. Since I have worked from home the past 8 1/2 years (especially), I have regularly struggled with this question. The pandemic and rapid increase in the number of zoom meetings I have had has added to this muddle. And even more so because my husband also works from home, so we have really had to work to deliberately carve out non-tech/work time together. What have you found most helpful to placing boundaries around the distraction of technology, etc?
What would Chivers say about your first statistic? lol
I do like this question your pose…”Ultimately, we are asked to consider not only are we seen but do we truly see ourselves.” I would also pile on to ask if we are courageous enough to really see ourselves?
How do these questions impact the choices we make in our leadership?