By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
It begins in childhood. Son or daughter in the family pool trying a new trick. Perhaps swimming underwater for the first time.
“Momma, Daddy – look at me. See what I can do. Look at me!”
Soon enough it’s Little League or Youth Soccer.
“Did you see that kick, Dad?”
“I caught the ball, Mom. I caught it!” The tone incredulous and proud all at once.
As time goes on, the words change, grow more sophisticated, but the message is the same.
“Were you able to get a shot of me just when I got my diploma?”
“Thanks for the great prom pictures, Pop.”
Look at me! It isn’t ego that compels them to ask for attention. Not really. It’s the universal need for affirmation. What I’m doing matters. Someone cares. My family loves me. I’m doing this for them, to let them know I value their approval. Since the advent of photography, it has been that way.
And now there are smart phones that take pictures which rival the work of studio photographers, and, of course there are Facebook and Twitter and all the other Internet vectors.
Spend enough time on these pervasive social media and you might begin to lapse into cynicism. Why are all these “friends” posting photos of their breakfast or dinner? Why do they want to show us where they went today? What is that object they are holding that obviously means so much to them? Often there is no explanation.
And what’s with the Recipes? Why the Cats? Dogs? Children? Aging parents? Gardens? Livestock? A favorite wine label? Selfies with celebrities? Maps pinpointing where they are?
As much as all these posts might seem like bragging or showing off, chances are that is not their intention. Time is the thing that motivates them. The passage of time. Time – that most, most efficient neutralizer, that ultimate eraser.
Now parents themselves, now advancing toward the front rank, they still hunger for affirmation at the same time they yearn to bestow it on their own children and family while they can.
Much of the time they don’t even explain why they are sharing these personal moments. Who are these smiling people on a lawn? What are their relationships to one another?
Why do they feel it is so urgent that the cyber sphere must know their feelings on gluten, Putin, a toxic dump, Donald Trump, badminton, Hillary Clinton?
Do they really believe everyone will care that they bought a new beach chair or built a birdhouse? Do they think the world is waiting to see the next joke they found or the new shoes they just acquired?
Surely, though, they hope the people who see their wall will feel their pain or loss when someone is sick or passes on or feel their joy when a new child arrives. Certainly, when help or sympathy is needed it’s reassuring to get a hundred “likes” or dozens of the perfectly apt emoticons.
Ever present though is the longing for approbation, the hunger for affirmation. Even the most arrogant presence on Twitter or Facebook will reveal the need, the grain of insecurity that says “Hey over here. Look at me.”
Long before there was photography, there were silhouetted likenesses, painstakingly cut by artists from black paper and mounted on a white background, something to give a lover or a relative to keep. “Look at me.” Then there were cameos, delicate profiles carved out of gemstones or shells and mounted in a gold or silver setting. Heirlooms to be passed down in a family, the image of a loved one preserved for future generations.
In the nineteenth century women also cut locks of their hair and plaited them into hearts or crosses or wove them into decorative frames and bestowed them on a favored beau or a brother or sister. Children kept them after the donor had died. “Look at me. Remember me.”
From the swimming pool of childhood to the roaring sea of grown up life, from the earliest clear memory of youth to the faltering recollections of advanced age, the impulse remains.
“Look at me. I am here. I matter. I care for you. Care for me. See what I did today. See the new car I bought. Isn’t it nice? Here’s a picture of my kitchen. Wouldn’t you like to come over and eat some pie? Look at me. We knew each other in school. I liked you. Did you like me? I had a sweater like this in high school? Wouldn’t it be great if we could go back there again? Don’t ever forget. We wrote that in the yearbook. Don’t ever forget.”
Look at me! Remember me! I was here. Look at me! I was here!