Selfies have been ruling the Internet since the day cameras were incorporated into mobile phones. Smiling faces, casual winks, and candid looks have flooded all our social media feeds.
No matter how trivial they may sound, some selfies, especially the ones taken in an era when the term was not even coined, hold great significance. Some are just hauntingly miraculous – like this cat below clicking a selfie with its pals (just kidding).
For real, I chanced upon a truly marvelous selfie moment while reading famous NASA astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s book, Cosmos. Miracles don’t just happen every time. Sometimes, it’s one man’s vision that leads us to a miracle and Carl Sagan was one such man from the last century.
On Valentines Day (February 14) in 1990, NASA’s Voyager 1, a 722-kg (1,592 lb) robotic spacecraft launched on a mission to study the outer Solar System and the interstellar space, took the first selfie of our very own planet, Earth.
After traveling for a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles), Voyager 1 was crossing the orbit of Neptune and entering into the uncharted space beyond the Solar System. At that moment, Carl Sagan convinced NASA to turn Voyager’s camera just once towards Earth and take a photograph. It was the first time Earth took a selfie!
Here’s Earth’s first selfie. Notice that speck of white spot inside the brown band of sunbeam? That’s our home … our only home ever. I got goosebumps thinking about how all the human beings and animals ever born have lived and died on that tiny speck you see in the picture.
Sagan presented this image at a public gathering at the Cornell University in October 1994 and shared his reflection on how our everyday hustle and bustle on Earth is insignificant when put against the context of the vast, ever-expanding universe. This image is now known to be the greatest selfie ever!
Carl said, “To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
… cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
— Carl Sagan, 1994
The phrase ‘pale blue dot’ was also used as the title of one of Sagan’s books — Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. The phrase has now become a new backdrop for all intellectual conversations.
Even after 23 years of coinage, when two bright minds sit to ponder over politics, trade or other human aspects of this world, the conclusion often revolves around how all such conflicting set of ideologies, war, and violence have been taking place on nothing but a speck of dust floating in the fabric of spacetime, bound by the gravitational field of the Sun.
So, the craze behind selfies may seek its inspiration in this story of how a NASA scientist had to convince his team to send a signal at light speed to a camera that was 6 billion kilometers away, mounted on a spacecraft, headed towards the vast unknown, to take a selfie.
Selfies are the proof that we, as a species, have developed a technology that allows us to capture moments and be a part of it at the same time. Through selfies, we merge ourselves into our surroundings, become one with it, and celebrate by sharing the moment with fellow beings that live on this pale blue dot.
Another great example of historic selfies is Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin’s famous photograph of himself spacewalking outside the Gemini spacecraft in 1966.
This testifies the fact that the fashion of taking selfies is nothing new. In fact, there are more examples of selfies that date back to the days of daguerreotype cameras.
This photo was taken by American photography pioneer Robert Cornelius, who also made lamps, in 1839. Yes, the first ever selfie was taken by a lamp manufacturer 178 years ago! Robert used a daguerreotype camera, which was made of a box and a lens carved out from an opera glass.
Selfies Are Here to Stay
As we have realized by now, selfies are not something new. Rather, they are an integral part of the history of photography. However, the triviality that we attach to selfies is definitely new and there’s a good reason behind that.
Abundance is a curse. Too much of anything is harmful and there’s no exception in the case of selfies. We have been sharing selfies of everything and anything on social media and this has led to a clutter of selfies on the Internet. People are excited about their daily digital log and are constantly posting stories on Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp and more such social media platforms.
With Facebook having more than 2 billion users and Instagram with a little over 800 million followers, it is unlikely that the selfie phenomenon will fade away anytime in the near future.