The autograph is dead. Long live the selfie

When the Prime Minister takes a selfie at a state funeral, it’s clear the game is up

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The Independent Online

It’s official: the autograph, like the vinyl record and the video tape, is dead. An actor friend was telling me the other day that, over the past year, fans have simply stopped asking for him to sign his name. All he gets now are requests for selfies. It’s all about the quick hit, the ephemeral notoriety, and the opportunity to boast over social media that you’ve “met” someone your friends will recognise.

If anything epitomises the superficiality and solipsism and vanity of the modern world, it’s our selfie-obsession. Let’s face it, the selfie is only partly about the famous person. It’s not about them, it’s about me. Look at me. I’m with him. I’m not pretending I really know George Clooney, but I mix in the same circles. And I don’t need to have an authentic, meaningful experience, I have a photographic record of merely being there. Look, that’s me, and me, and me...

What I am unclear about is whether the selfie is a transitory phenomenon or not, but the news this week that the National Gallery has followed other august institutions like the Smithsonian Museum in banning the selfie stick – the apparatus with which you get yourself in a wide-angle shot – may be an indication that the tide is turning.

I remember when people went to art galleries to look at the paintings, to spend time absorbing a work, reflecting on its meaning. You stood. You looked. You thought.

Previously, visitors were banned by galleries from taking photographs for fear that the flash would damage the art. But the advent of the camera phone changed the rules of engagement, and galleries had to give up on that. Now, a large proportion of those who go to galleries don’t immerse themselves in the experience of seeing the art: their visit comprises taking photographs of themselves in front of the pictures.

The National Gallery has said that the selfie stick is harmful to “the overall visitor experience”, and the art critic Brian Sewell welcomed their banishment. “Anyone who actually wants to go and see a painting can’t because people are too busy taking photos,” said Sewell, expressing a sentiment with which those who go to rock concerts could surely identify.

I know I’m fighting a losing battle – when the Prime Minister takes a selfie at a state funeral, it’s clear the game is up – but I hope we get to a point when taking a selfie is as anti-social and frowned upon as letting your mobile ring in the cinema. Maybe it will turn out to be bad for your health...