Selfies to solve world problems (really)

Maria Isabel Garcia
What if we can make selfies more meaningful – if not for the one posting it, then for others who would probably not even see your selfie online?

Ranting about selfies is like swimming against a tsunami. I was slow to realize that, having written a few columns in the past trying to convince selfie takers to go easy on the selfies. I am not a selfie taker by a mishmash of variables – my age, my anatomy (I am short, my hands are too small to hold a camera far enough), and am terribly clumsy. But mostly, I think it is because of my parents’ constant reminders while we were growing up that self-absorption of any kind was dumb and boring. If you think that is judgmental, take it up with my mother (my Dad already passed away), but do not say I did not warn you.

But it is easy for me to imagine other sets of variables that other people possess to make selfie-taking a part of their life and personality. The technology – the camera, the speed, and the social media platforms – all make selfies so much easier and faster to do that the natural primal impulse to want to be seen could be so easily and abundantly fed even if your ego is not hungry at the time of the selfie moment. 

Selfies are not self-portraits. The difference is not in the technology used – it is in the purpose of the self-portrait. There is a world of difference between the state of mind of Vincent Van Gogh when he painted himself, and the selfie-taker. A selfie is a self-portrait intended only to be posted online. It is you at that moment, oriented only toward the “public gaze” of the entire planetary online community. You are taking a chance at that public gaze to influence what they think of you, based on where you are, what you are doing, and whom you are with in that selfie. And if it is like any Twitter post that goes viral, for about 11.9 hours, the luckiest of selfies will experience this kind of fame, negative or positive. Then you will be forgotten. 

But what if we can make selfies more meaningful – if not for the one posting it, then for others who would probably not even see your selfie online? What if we can make selfies solve problems – pressing problems, like the climate emergency, poverty, and the educational crisis? What if selfies were made to pay for the solutions to all these?  

Any financial person will ask for the numbers to support my proposal, so here it is: in 2015 alone, 25 billion selfies were uploaded online. If people were automatically debited even just a single cent from their online money (whatever form that is) for every selfie they uploaded, that would have amounted to $250 million! That could reforest about 150,000 hectares with 60 million trees – the size of 2.5 Metro Manilas! In terms of classrooms, if each classroom needed anywhere in the world cost even only $1,000, that would be 250,000 classrooms! That would also pay for 5,000,000 meals of hungry people! 

A millennial will take about 25,000 selfies within his or her lifetime, so that means he or she will spend about $250 in his or her lifetime satisfying his or her desire to be seen as “someone because am somewhere or with someone or doing something or all of that” and significantly making the world a better place without necessarily intending to. And that is the beautiful thing about this scheme – the selfie-takers do not have to care about world problems or care to solve them. By giving in to their natural impulse, they automatically contribute to a better world. 

But you may say, but what about the psychological cost of making selfies a part of your personality? And what about those whose lives, including that of nonhumans, are interrupted by selfie-takers? As I said, going against this selfie phenomenon is like fighting your desire for food – it is better to raise one hand to surrender and the other to ask them to pay for it. I am not a fan of absolute free-market economics, but I shake hands with this version of the invisible hand. 

I suggest we call this cent for selfies “sel-fee” – a very, very small price to pay for disrupting the life of others, and not to mention your own (because you could be paying attention to the moment instead).  

Make your face the face of the solution for the climate crisis, poverty, and the educational crisis, among the long list of global migraines. How about it then, sel-fees for selfies? –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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