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Opinion: Selfies, Trump… and the deterioration of social interactions

FILE - In this Saturday, July 11, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at FreedomFest in Las Vegas. Retired "Late Show" host David Letterman appeared with comedians Martin Short and Steve Martin at their live comedy show on Friday, July 10, 2015, in San Antonio, where Letterman read "Interesting facts about Donald Trump." (AP Photo/John Locher, File)


As an aspiring journalist and what Hunter S. Thompson would refer to as a budding “political junkie,” my eyes were naturally glued to the television set as I watched the Feb. 2 CNN coverage of the Iowa Republican Caucus. Everything went as expected: Anderson Cooper’s left-wing political commentators stuck to a strictly opinion-based, play-by-play of events in the studio, reporters in the field rushed to explain a painstakingly intricate modus operandi in an allotted 45-second flash, and for seemingly no reason at all, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina attending the same caucus site was deemed “breaking news.” Yet, amidst all the commotion, what grabbed my attention during the live coverage were the copious amount of teens and tweens taking selfies with Donald Trump.

[For those of you who don’t know, a selfie is a photo you take yourself, of yourself, usually on the front facing camera of a smartphone.]

At first, watching the Hawkeye youth line up to take photos with the billionaire host of “The Apprentice” did not faze me because seeing as Trump’s looming presence on the campaign trail has elevated him to the status of “Internet-Meme famous.” If you’re lost in reading this due to the abundance of the post-millennial terminology, an “internet meme” is a concept or idea that spreads from person to person, usually via social media site.

Now, in order to get the point of this article across completely effectively, I must provide a little background information regarding my Trump-bias. I live in Los Angeles where an abundance of young liberals have either created or gathered a solid collection of Facebook statuses, pictures, GIFs, (if you’re unsure of what a GIF is, Google it) and other mediums of “art” that can be found on Reddit (Google what that is too) that make a complete mockery of Trump. So, assuming social media feeds are the same in Iowa as they are in sunny Southern California, I assumed the kids taking pictures of Trump were doing so because of the Liberal stigma tacked on to Trump. But then, something occurred to me: these kids were at an Iowa Republican Caucus site, and two of the teens were actually wearing Trump t-shirts! To my surprise, these kids weren’t mocking Trump, but were real life Trump supporters. Yet, instead of going up and speaking to him, these young conservatives were simply poking the publicly germophobic candidate in the back, asking him for a picture, taking it, then walking away, without saying a word.

I’m not sure if you can see what I’m getting at by including this little anecdote, but to make it totally obvious, these kids were taking pictures of Trump for bragging rights. They took pictures with Trump so they could go tell their fellow Trump supporters that they met the candidate! Except, wait a minute, these kids didn’t actually meet the man.

If you’re still (or ever were) thinking during reading this article, “Gee, this kid sure knows how to namedrop, but what the heck is he talking about?” I’ll put it this way: the teenagers who took these selfies with Trump had no intention of speaking with a man they look up to and respect, but deemed it entirely acceptable to gather photo evidence that they too have the ability to disturb someone with a certain amount of celebrity, lean in real close, and click that photo button. Doesn’t this sound a little funky? If it doesn’t, then you should probably stop reading this because I officially deem you as a lost cause in understanding my opinion.

Assuming these kids were going to post their Trump selfies to their own respective platforms of social media, (even though we all know what happens when we ASSUME) it is not a stretch to say that social media and the ever-growing market for online social interaction is perpetuating the deterioration of real life social interactions. But, why does this trend seem to be establishing itself as a substitution for face-to-face interaction? Well, one reason is that for many socially anxious post-millennials, it seems far easier to create any persona of your choosing at the click of a button. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling people with certain handicaps that cause difficulties interacting with others in real-life, (though there may be a connection between growing social anxieties and more abundant mediums of social media, but we’ll let history figure that one out). I am simply saying that for some, social media is a safe haven to express yourself freely without fear of being ridiculed to your face.

To bring a conclusion to this pseudo-exposé, I personally believe and foresee a world closer to the Bruce Willis film “Surrogates” (once again, look it up if you don’t know, I’m sticking to a word count here) than the one we currently know. My own opinion of this little predicament we’re currently in is that the social skills we have adapted over thousands of years are growing obsolete as a result of servers like MySpace, or Match.com.

Or maybe, just maybe, social media and technology is just the next step in the natural process? This way or that, I couldn’t say for sure, these are simply observations that have caused me to rack my brain in deep, deep thought. I hope you enjoyed them, and I hope this article makes you think about the issues I’ve brought to the table.

–Michael Irwin

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