Not too long ago I took my first selfie. I figured out how to take a front-facing photo, maximize my arm extension, and include my friend and the concert-stage backdrop in the frame. I uploaded the photo and self-consciously attached a series of hashtags, most of which pointed out that I never take selfies because, as everyone knows, selfies are terrible. That people snap photos of themselves for the rest of the world to see reeks of entitlement, self-obsession, and boredom. Right now on the Internet, billions of lonely little images are floating in the cloud, a steady stream of self-aggrandizement.

No matter the amazing backdrop in each—say, the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon—what’s most amazing is the fixed point in every photo: me. Wherever you go, there I am, an image on your screen, waiting for your likes and comments. I’ll take anything, as long as you respond.

And that may provide a clue into selfies’ enduring popularity.

‘So They Will Know Who I Am’

Consider that the selfie has been around for a long time. Artists such as Rembrandt, Leonardo, Goya, and Cezanne all painted self-portraits, and even many of the oldest cave paintings are of the painters themselves. Yet we rarely think of these self-portraits as self-aggrandizement.

Recently, Pacific Standardinterviewed a woman named Giulietta who suffers from schizoaffective disorder. She has regular hallucinatory episodes wherein she loses all sense of reality. Yet Giulietta managed to open a coffee shop that she named Trouble, after the hardships she can’t quite shake off.

Giulietta’s restaurant has been wildly successful, not in spite of her illness but because of it. She desperately needs other people, ...

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