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A Chicago toddler joins the selfie nation

This week’s blog post is by WDP co-host Matt Rocco, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with Professor Foster ( his “Brown Mom” wife), and their daughter Viva, whose arms aren’t quite long enough to get more than one person in her selfies.

We’re a nation of narcissists, and the Internet has only exacerbated the problem. How many “Likes”, “Thumbs Up”, and Whatever-Google-Plus-Does we can gather have become a measure of self-worth for most Millenials, and a proliferation of apps and websites means everyone is measuring their days in six-second videos and blurry close-ups of their faces from flattering angles. We’re all living in our own reality shows – our Warholian Fifteen Minutes have arrived …

… and my three-year-old has just joined the selfie nation.

They learn the boops and beeps fast, those youngsters. By age one, my daughter Viva was already swiping at the world trying to effect the interface. Imagine her frustration when learning that sleep machine projections, microwave ovens, and her own shadow don’t just “swipe.” Now she’s learned how to use my iPhone to take pictures of herself, and even videos. She ran off with my phone this weekend, and when I found her, there were literally hundreds of selfies and several short films.

The selfies ranges from blurs of color to adorable portraiture, and the videos primarily involved her announcing who she was over and over – a mantra of self-consciousness. Not the most compelling flicks, but I’ve seen worse at the Music Box and the Siskel. It seems a bit banal, just introducing yourself over and over, but isn’t that what we all do in the era of Facebook? See my new profile pic – that’s me. See my new new profile pic? – that’s me now. How about now? Do you see me now? Click “Like” so I know you like who I am at the present second. Hurry, I’m about to change.

I’m a prime culprit of “selfie-itis.” I use the rear facing camera to do everything from checking to see if my weight gain is apparent to checking for spinach in my teeth, and if I haven’t gained weight and don’t have spinach in my teeth, the picture goes online. Of course, I’ve learned the hard way over these past three years that dashing pictures of myself aren’t going to cut it anymore. If I really want to draw clicks, it’s Mommy and I together – or, better yet – Viva, who has to be in the pics. Post a picture of Viva doing, well, almost anything, and the “Likes” skyrocket. Call it “The Viva Effect.” Because our friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances, they “Like” her, they really “Like” her.

The bad news is, she’ll likely become addicted to controlling her own PR the way the rest of us are. Please, let me tell you what I’m like before you can figure it out for yourself. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite films, shows and books, so you know just how eclectic and erudite I am. Here is an album of myself at the beach with friends. Oh, am I in a swimsuit? No big deal. Tune into my podcast so I can tell you more about how clever I am while you drive, and so you can hear my opinions on things so you’ll know what to enjoy. I’m a taste-maker.

The good news is, I’ll have a fantastic record of what she was like growing up; a record in dozens of daily photos and potentially embarrassing YouTube clips of every play she does, every song she wants to lip sync, and every skateboarding trick she pulls off. Viva had picture day at nursery school last week. I had two dozen photos of her standing in line before the photographer ever got to her. Which ones should I give out as Christmas gifts? Maybe all of them, if I can afford the albums. We’ve amassed enough daily photos that if we arranged them as a flip book you could watch her age in about 1/6 time.

Maybe I should stop her, take the phone away before she discovers “The Duck Face” or buy one of those extending sticks for getting all her three-year-old buddies into the shot. I certainly won’t be creating online identities for her anytime soon – a little living IRL (“in real life”) is in order before she starts spin doctoring everything from what she’s doing to what she’s about to eat. It’s a little late though – she knows how to take the pictures, she knows people like her photos … hell, she’s knows she’s got a blog dedicated to her antics at Chicago Parent – it won’t be long before she’s asking how she can get her name on a clothing line.

Like so many things in our increasingly fast-moving world, all we can hope is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that she’ll develop a balanced sense of self through trial and error, and not believe her own hype when it comes to the carefully manicured lives we create for ourselves online. That’s what I’m going to hope for her, and fingers-crossed, a life of substance and balance is what she’ll want for herself.

But first, she’s gonna take a selfie.

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