The lighting was great. The artwork behind you was surely good enough (or famous enough) to make this your new profile photo. Or, your bestie was in town and you were having a great time at the restaurant. And who else was going to document your new haircut, right out of the salon?
All fair points, but as their name implies, selfies are often composed at the expense of others. Most of us have been on the other side—stepped on or bumped into by the selfie-taker, or impatiently waiting as they took forever in front of The Thing We Also Want to See. As much as we hate to admit it, many of us have also committed selfie-in-public transgressions. Here's how to stay on etiquette's good side while you're on the flip side of the cell phone camera.
Selfie with intention
With an enabling amount of digital space on our devices and the convenience of using our phones as cameras, we tend to snap first and ask questions later. But why are you selfie-ing, anyway? We don't always, or ever, ask ourselves these questions: Does inserting yourself add to the composition? Is it an inside joke or running gag to send to some friends in the know? Is it an integral chapter in your Instagram story? Or... are you just doing it because, why not? Call me uptight, but these are especially important questions to ask in all of the situations that follow.
With an enabling amount of digital space on our devices and the convenience of using our phones as cameras, we tend to snap first and ask questions later.
Mind manners in museums
There's often a crowd or a line in front of special works of art and attractions known the world over. Between the crowds and the dark, art-protecting lighting, it's unlikely that you'll get an A-plus shot of yourself with the Mona Lisa. So, continuing to try more than a couple times, if there is a crowd, is both futile and rude.
"No palo selfie"
Some museums aren't having it from the get-go. The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City has a sign at the entrance with very clear, illustrated instructions, in multiple languages, for what is and isn't allowed inside the museum. One of them, plain as day, said "No palo selfie" (selfie sticks).
When one of these is whipped out, regardless of how much discretion is being used with it, I think to myself, "No palo selfie." My personal feelings aside, if you must, there are ways in which a selfie sword can be wielded respectably. For example, avoid holding it and your phone over people's heads—because in what other context is it okay to dangle an object over a stranger?
When one of these is whipped out, regardless of how much discretion is being used with it, I think to myself, "No palo selfie."
Tone down the smiles in somber places
Places in which lives were lost or people were harmed, whether it was two decades or multiple generations ago, tend to become historically preserved places that welcome tourists and school groups. And it can be hard to be somber in a place with a gift shop and excitable kids.
The site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and the USS Arizona memorial in Hawaii—from both I can report an uncomfortable abundance of toothy grins—are more obvious places where this guideline would come in handy. But I'd extend it to churches, mosques, temples, even cemeteries or any place of mourning; especially if mourning is actively happening.
The guidelines around weddings are a little less defined, given their celebratory nature, as well as as the fact that the professional photographer is doing enough shuttering for the rest of us. In wedding mode, we guests feel emboldened, excited, and elegant enough to capture a pre-ceremony selfie with our dates, old friends, or with the time-strapped happy couple themselves. Still, one person's party may be taking place in someone else's sacred place, so keep it cool and to a minimum, no matter how great you look in the outfit. Even a seemingly innocuous peace sign or thumbs up may come off as too irreverent and disrespectful in the wrong context.
Even a seemingly innocuous peace sign or thumbs up may come off as too irreverent and disrespectful in the wrong context.
Selfie while driving
In California, it's illegal to text and drive, as well as talk and drive… which means we should know and accept that it's illegal to selfie while driving, too. Even if you've got one of those phone-holders on your dashboard, this is a serious safety hazard. It's also a terrible angle, right?
Self-athy? Empa-fie? Treat others as you would want to be treated.
Whether it’s a particularly photographable museum experience or a standout view of a next-level sunset, there are, without a doubt, others who have the same photo in mind. Perhaps they can already see it framed in their house or sent as holiday cards.
Selfies are, at their core, a record of ourselves in time and space, and we can't come down on anyone for wanting to add to their storybook. But doing the impossible—separating the ego from an activity that is inherently ego-driven—pushes us to remember that others' stories are being captured as we speak. Which puts all of our selfies in the best light—#nofilterneeded.
In a time when we're all inundated with self-improvement advice on how to go from good to better, maybe what we need is some help being… less annoying. For more where this came from, read our tips for how not to be an asshole in the office kitchen, at a conference, while commuting on public transit, in a meeting, or when you've got a flexible schedule and your colleagues are trudging in for the 9-to-5.
Tara Ramroop is a content marketing manager at Zendesk and frequent contributor to Relate. A loquacious Libra lady of letters, she firmly believes the craft of storytelling makes the world a more understanding and, well, relatable place. As a Bay Area native, English degree be damned, she has no qualms about saying or writing "hella." Follow her visual stories and occasionally cheeky captions on Instagram @roopisonfire.