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The Vacant Era Of 'Homo Viden' — A Philosopher's Takedown Of Selfie Culture

Italian philosopher Umberto Galimberti says it is a tragedy to photograph a life into existence rather than living it.

AI generated image of three statue of davids taking selfies.

The statue of David takes a selfie

AI-generated illustration / Worldcrunch
Emanuela Minucci


"The selfie is indecent," proclaims Italian philosopher Umberto Galimberti.

According to him, the selfie symbolizes the highest point of human narcissism: people tend to want to represent themselves "out of fear that others might say something wrong or negative about them."

"When we go to museums", which Galimberti calls the tombs of art, "we tend to take more photos of the artworks and share them on social media rather than 'enjoying' the visit. This ends up flattening the entire experience, reducing it to viewing through a screen."

I take a selfie, everyone takes a selfie, I am everyone.

With this Aristotelian syllogism, Galimberti summarizes today's society, dominated by social media and digital self-portraits as well as the absence of distinct personalities. "Those who look at themselves are outside of every relationship. Only others define who we are: since the times of the Greeks and the Romans, the relationship with others is something fundamental. It's this relationship that represents us, one way or the other."

From Homo Sapiens to Homo Videns

Interviewed by photographer Silvia Camporesi for Artribune, the philosopher goes even further, comparing the selfie to a tragedy.

"We have transitioned from the era of Homo sapiens to that of Homo videns ["the man who watches", essentially someone who experiences life through media intermediaries] .With the shift from being to having, [this new species is] subject to the need to photograph everything all the time, creating a compulsion to possess images." By photographing life, we delude ourselves into believing we are living by inserting a prosthesis called a smartphone between ourselves and reality. We are, in effect, freezing a life we have never truly lived.

Instagrammers of the world, put down your phones and enter life.

"We photograph everything," he explains, "ourselves in the elevator mirror, a sunset, a sunrise, a birth, without ever experiencing reality directly. Instead, we think about framing, about pausing the life happening around us, creating a freezer for images and sensations that we will never truly revisit, losing the real taste of life."

"The selfie, as a simulacrum of perfection, is nothing more than a dwindling projection of oneself: but it's not authentic. Aristotle said, 'Perfect people do not fight, do not lie, do not make mistakes, and do not exist.'"

Photograph of a girl pursing her lips as she takes a selfie

A girl takes a selfie

Apostolos Vamvouras/Unsplash

Leaving Plato's cave

Photographing oneself in selfies, therefore, represents a hyperbole that is deprived of substance. They are shadows, the projections inside Plato's allegorical cave.

We must break free from the doxa (superficial and ever-changing opinion) created by the fleeting imagery of the selfie in order to find the truth of spontaneity. No more shadowy cave walls.

As he had previously written in La Stampa, Galimberti continues to prefer solitude over in-person sociality. He clarifies, "There is also a substantial difference between seeking others and presenting oneself to others: the selfie serves the latter function, making it something purely egocentric."

The lesson here could be, "Instagrammers of the world, put down your phones and enter life. The more likes and followers you have, the more you may think you are someone important. In reality, though, this is merely a presence without substance. It contains nothing relevant for the enhancement of our identity."

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Violence Against Women, The Patriarchy And Responsibility Of The Good Men Too

The femicide of Giulia Cecchettin has shaken Italy, and beyond. Argentine journalist Ignacio Pereyra looks at what lies behind femicides and why all men must take more responsibility.

photo of a young man holding a sign: Filippo isn't a monster, he's the healthy son of the patriarchy

A protester's sign referring to the alleged killer reads: Filippo isn't a monster, he's the healthy son of the patriarchy

Matteo Nardone/Pacific Press via ZUMA Press
Ignacio Pereyra

Updated Dec. 3, 2023 at 10:40 p.m.


ATHENS — Are you going to write about what happened in Italy?, Irene, my partner, asks me. I have no idea what she's talking about. She tells me: a case of femicide has shaken the country and has been causing a stir for two weeks.

As if the fact in itself were not enough, I ask what is different about this murder compared to the other 105 women murdered this year in Italy (or those that happen every day around the world).

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We are talking about a country where the expression "fai l'uomo" (be a man) abounds, with a society so prone to drama and tragedy and so fond of crime stories as few others, where the expression "crime of passion" is still mistakenly overused.

In this context, the sister of the victim reacted in an unexpected way for a country where femicide is not a crime recognized in the penal code, contrary to what happens, for example, in almost all of Latin America.

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