I’m locked in thick pedestrian sidewalk traffic near Seoul’s Hongdae bar/club/partyzone district. Prospects of escape look dire. Actually, I want to get a little more specific: I’m not actually a pedestrian, I’m an urban salmon, perpetually jumping upstream through the molasses-slow crowds of highly-distracted smartphone users. They’re either lazily drifting or stopped altogether, bunched up in cliques, snapping trillions of gigabytes worth of selfies (Seoulfies? Patent pending.) I’m aware it’s probably the same in your city. But I’m going to pick on Koreans right now, particularly the sophisticated, high-caste, shutter-snap-happy folk who populate the Capital. It probably seems worse right now because the sidewalks are narrower.
Welcome to 2014. All you can hear are shutter clicks, all you can see are duck lips. I don’t always head into Seoul, but when I do, I’m stuck on a sidewalk, twisting and juking around the human roadblocks. I’m just trying to get to Point B. I wonder if these people even have a Point B, based on how slowly they’re traveling. Do they now pad their walking time when they leave the house? “Well, hey, you know we always take a shitload of selfies on the way there, so let’s plan on 20 minutes instead of 10…bring your extra phone battery.”
Reader, we now come to a fork in the road. We could A) beat a long-dead horse and waste our time analyzing the cultural, technological, and psychological catalysts that led us to the Age of the Selfie, or we could B) jump cut to the future, to see the far-reaching effects of the Age of the Selfie.
I choose B. Welcome to 2114. All you can hear is the soft rustling of dust that used to be human bone being blown around by the radioactive wind. All you can see are the blackened, bombed-out husks of the homes of everyone you’ve ever known and loved. Alien pioneers are exploring our Earth, wading through the rubble man left behind and finding millions of small, glassy rectangles lying around.
The more astute members of the search party may deduce these rectangles are communication/recording devices of some kind. Tentacles perk up in excitement as they use their advanced power sources to fire up an iPhone 5S or a Samsung Galaxy S5. Tentacles then go flaccid with disappointment as the aliens discover a dearth of photographic records of any value. What they find on these devices are—yes, reader, you guessed correctly—millions upon millions of selfies.
As the aliens swipe a leathery green appendage across the screen to advance through each smartphone’s photo roll, they ask each other many questions. Chief among them: “Why so many? It’s just a photo of the same Earthling, over and over. Sometimes with a friend. Did the Earthlings expect their appearance to change between each photo? Did Earthlings’ appearances change very rapidly? Were they shapeshifters?”
Also: “Why did Earthlings hold the device with their own hands to take so many pictures of themselves? Did never have another friend around to take a picture for them? Did most Earthlings not have any friends? Were they all in love with themselves, and always alone, too? Write that down, Zorplax, that’s a good observation for when we write the history of this place.”
And: “Did the Earthlings never develop our mirror technology? Did this species have memory-loss issues and therefore need to frequently take these photographs so as not to forget what they look like? Again, write this stuff down. I think we’re onto something here.”
Most members of the extra-terrestrial search party soon become bored and wander away. But two of them linger and exchange a look of pure mischief. They extend a tentacle, holding an iPhone out in front of them, and both aliens put their bulbous heads together and twist their disgusting slimy mouths into a little pout as they take the picture. They laugh—an odd, squeaky, snorting sound—select a filter, and take another shot. They start to really enjoy this.
They spend hours doing this. And when they re-board their ship and hover away to explore another region of this blackened, bombed-out landmass, they take the iPhone with them.