Joe Pisani: Do selfies make us lose focus?

Pope Francis poses with youth in the Church of Saint Augustine in downtown Rome on Aug. 28, 2013.

Pope Francis poses with youth in the Church of Saint Augustine in downtown Rome on Aug. 28, 2013.

AFP /Getty Images

While I was driving through New England after 10 inches of snow fell, I passed two young people who skid down the hill and plowed into three garbage cans before hitting a fence post.

They looked OK. They looked better than the car. They must have been OK because instead of checking her boyfriend for bruises or picking up the garbage or trying to get the car out of the ditch, the girl was taking selfies with her cellphone.

My first thought was, “Hmmm, they must be making a GEICO commercial.” My second thought was “Can I get in the photo???”

Being a geezer, I confess that taking photos would be the last thing on my mind. I’d be more concerned with escaping the scene of the crime so I wouldn’t have to pick up all that frozen garbage.

Now, don’t get hot and bothered and start grumbling, “Why didn’t you stop to help those poor young people? Aren’t you concerned about your neighbor and social justice and doing the right thing?” Let me answer honestly.


They probably posted their photos on Instagram, sent out tweets worldwide and set up a GoFundMe page to pay for car repairs. Isn’t it wonderful the things you can do with social media, as long as you don’t get censored?

Have you noticed that whenever there’s a crisis or natural disaster, every bystander’s first reaction is to take selfies and post them? “Hey everybody! I’m on my Paris vacation, and that’s Notre Dame going up in flames behind me!”

The crazy thing is if they send the photo to their local newspaper, they’ll be on the front page the next day ... or in the church bulletin. Everybody needs content.

Some tourist sites prohibit selfie photos so people won’t put themselves in perilous situations. A couple was killed in Portugal photographing themselves on the edge of a cliff; a tourist fell to his death from a bridge in Spain; and a nitwit running with the bulls snapped a selfie and almost got gored to death, which leads me to conclude that raging bulls do NOT like having their pictures taken. You’ve probably also read about adventurous tourists taking selfies on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and before they know it — oops — they’re in the canyon and that’s the last vacation photo you’ll ever see. Selfies can kill.

For years, I had to navigate around tourists in Grand Central who were taking photos with selfie sticks during rush hour and nearly poking out the eyes of hapless commuters, whose only offense was they wanted to get to work on time.

What psychological need inspires selfie-ism? Where did we get this attention-seeking gene? Don’t misunderstand me. Some very prominent people love selfies, including Pope Francis and Barack Obama, and I don’t want to get on their bad side.

Nevertheless, I’m convinced social media is an accelerant that’s fueling a pandemic of narcissism, and there’s no vaccine. Pfizer, do something quick! A study by Swansea University, which I never heard of, showed that posting selfies can increase your narcissism level by 25 percent. (It’s time for our president to issue an executive order taxing selfies so we can solve the U.S. budget deficit.)

This brings me to a really serious national security issue that could rival Russian collusion. I have to whisper now. “Influencer” Kylie Jenner has 202 million followers on Instagram, and her half-sister Kim Kardashian has 193 million. One of their favorite pastimes is posting selfie pictures of themselves in various stages of undress for the good of humanity. Consider that last November 160 million Americans voted in the presidential election. Do the math. Kim Kardashian has more followers than Joe Biden and Donald Trump combined. She and Kylie could be in the White House in four years. They could even take over China. DANGER: We need to do something ASAP because they are not trained professional politicians!

I, for one, wouldn’t want our president, whoever he or she is, posting selfies wearing a thong bikini at the Paris climate talks. Would you? Don’t answer that.

(I was kidding. I ’ll stop to help anyone who drives into a garbage can if they’re not posing for pictures.)

Joe Pisani can be reached at