A High-Def 'Selfie' With the Arts and Humanities

Co-authored with Katherine Walker, Assistant Professor of Music at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the NY6Think Tank.

We delight in the art of taking selfies, brought to us this year in higher resolution and wide-angle lenses, filter and effect apps, lengthening sticks and remote controls that turn selfies into "groupies," or the other term used these days, "ussies."

Although a contemporary phenomenon, the selfie adds a tech twist to the long history of self-portraits that mark our museum walls. In fact, a piece in The Independent recently provided an example from Tumblr that, "features a painting of Henry VIII with the caption: 'art museums are actually just full of renaissance selfies.'"

If we combined our digital selfies into a Museum, like this fun "Selfie Museum" created by Olivia Muus at the National Gallery in Denmark, Copenhagen, could we then claim that the Arts and Humanities are entering a new Golden Age, a renaissance of sorts driven by new technological gadgets and found in the hands of, well, everybody?

If "selfies" were stories instead of pictures, could they then move beyond the surfaces of our screens? Could they begin to express our diverse identities, our cultures, our histories, our sense of place and purpose, our state of mind in ways that Vincent Van Gogh could have only dreamed?

Although a simple click of the camera (can we even still call these added tones "clicks"?) seems so abundant these days, perhaps we could use the selfie, or the ussie, as a distinct framing metaphor, a way to reflect more deeply on our obsessive delights with the latest gadgets while cutting self-reflection out of the picture.

Technology is, in fact, a great place to start. If technology really did simply feed into an "upgrade culture" -- obsessed with smaller, smarter, faster, sharper -- then there would be one universal gadget for everyone. One ussie.

But, technology seems to be deeply intertwined with the human experience -- our personalities, lifestyles, careers and relationships. What device are you using to display these words: the latest smart phone or a "vintage" iPhone? One with a cracked screen, a laptop or a desktop, a tablet or a hybrid? If you are writing on a tablet, this actually says a lot about who you are and how you interface with the world.

If your gadget is working for you, it's because it's responding well to the senses that you prioritize when you process information, your communication style, how much you multi-task and even your personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism are all reflected in your "tech style."

Technology experts are constantly gauging which device will be right for you -- what size, what features, how many apps, how much versatility. Hitting the mark for a broad sector of society means big financial gains; it also means improving lives and connecting technology to the way in which people actually live. So, technology isn't just about the newest, greatest upgrade; it's also about who we are as a society, what our values are, how we relate to each other and what we want from our lives. It's about your selfie, our ussie, through the lens of culture, identity, language, ethics -- in high def.