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How to be 'selfie-centered' for a cause

By Dean Obeidallah
updated 10:47 AM EST, Sat November 30, 2013
Television personalities Kim Kardashian and Willie Geist take a selfie during "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Television personalities Kim Kardashian and Willie Geist take a selfie during "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: The social media generation is the most narcissistic generation
  • He says new example is "funeral selfies" -- posing with dead person -- to draw attention
  • Twitter, Facebook have long allowed this self-centeredness. Why not turn it to good cause?
  • Obeidallah: Photobomb to raise awareness of causes you care about: a good self-centeredness

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the co-director of the new comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" It was released recently. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- We are the most narcissistic generation in American history. And when I say "generation" -- I'm not pointing my finger at millennials, gen X/Yers, or baby boomers. The generation I speak of is defined by people who use social media to incessantly share information about their favorite topic: themselves.

I, too, am part of this "selfie generation." (And if you don't know what "selfie" means, you're not.) We knew "selfie" had become emblematic of who we are when the Oxford Dictionary recently named it as 2013's word of the year.

"Narcissistic?" you say. "What can you mean?" Well, the new craze of "funeral selfies" is a clue: People snap a self-portrait in front of the body at a wake and share it on social media. For some, these selfies may actually be a way of grieving, but for others, it's clearly about drawing attention to themselves—even away from the recently deceased.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

Selfies are but the tip of the iceberg for my "selfie-centered" generation. We have already seen how Twitter has allowed so many, including myself, to tweet their most inane thoughts: a shared delusion that everything we say is so interesting/compelling/funny that it must be immediately offered to the world. And, of course, Facebook, the granddaddy of social media, is a great way to share every mundane event in your life. We've all read Facebook status updates like: "I'm eating potato chips" or "Have to use bathroom, be back soon."

Now there's also photobombing, where people sneak into the background of a photo being taken of someone else right before it's snapped. Even celebrities are photobombing. Just last week, actor Zach Braff (allegedly) photobombed a couple taking wedding photos. He promptly tweeted this, causing the photo to go viral. And I say Braff "allegedly" photobombed the couple because there are now apps that enable you to photobomb yourself into any picture.

Some of these pictures can truly be funny, but there's no denying that many photobomb because they want to upstage the photo's intended subjects --another example of our desperate, never-ending need for attention.

How 'selfies' can boost self-confidence
Kim, Miley make the selfie hall of shame
Dr. Ruth on sex and selfies

To be clear, I'm in no way judging others in in my "selfie generation," although funeral selfies are kinda creepy. Sharing our thoughts and experiences on social media is now part of our DNA, a reflex action without a second thought.

Most of us are aware of our collective self-centeredness. In fact, when I was contemplating writing this article, I tweeted out the question: "Are we the most self-absorbed generation?" The response was overwhelmingly: "Yes." But I did hear this defense often: If the generations before us had access to the same technology we do, they would have acted just like us.

Hard to argue with that. Why wouldn't Neil Armstrong have taken a selfie after he stepped onto the moon with the Earth positioned behind him? (Which would've been one of the greatest selfies ever.) Are you saying no one would have photobombed pictures taken at Woodstock or at anti-Vietnam war rallies? Or that Elvis wouldn't have tweeted photos of himself wearing a new sequin-studded jumpsuit that would have quickly gone viral?

This is who we are and there's no chance of going back. In fact, future technological advancements will undoubtedly make it even easier for us to share information about ourselves in ways we can't imagine now.

But the legacy of our "selfie generation" must be more than just photobombing a friend's picture or gloating when one of our tweets is retweeted to infinity. Our generation has an opportunity with these social media platforms to raise awareness about issues we personally believe need to be addressed. It can be as simple as taking a selfie as you walk past a soup kitchen—or better yet, help out in one-- and sharing it on social media. Maybe that will inspire others to volunteer at one or at least make a donation.

Why not use a photobomb app to insert yourself into an image of an impoverished child to bring attention to the 16 million children in the United States who live below the poverty line? Or tweet a photo of a U.S. military veteran to raise awareness about the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day or the wounded veterans who still need our support. The list of issues, from countering domestic violence to the bloodshed in Syria, goes on and on.

Let's use our love for sharing information about ourselves to also share information about the issues for which we feel passionate concern, especially during this holiday season. OK, be self-absorbed, but be self-absorbed for a cause. To me, that's the good kind of self-centered.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

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