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June 2, 2023

As every American schoolkid knows, June 21st is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. (Actually, it’s the same length as every other day – 24 hours – but you know what I mean.)

June 21st has been important since… well… since human beings gazed with wonder into the sky and concluded ‘there must be something more to this life than just the stuff we can see.’ The longest day (or the shortest, if you’re reading this in Buenos Aires) naturally lends itself to thoughts of transcendence.

What is this project called ‘humanity’ all about? What’s the point, and whose idea was it in the first place?

Since 2014 we have known the answer to these existential questions. Yup. 2014. That is the year that some bright spark decided that June 21st was not interesting enough with just being the longest (or shortest) day, and it also needed to be… wait for it… National Selfie Day. That’s right. June 21st is National Selfie Day. And isn’t your life better for knowing it? As it says on nationaldaystoday.com, “life is incomplete without taking selfies.” Right. I’m glad that’s clear.

That year, 2014, selfie sticks became the best-selling merchandise in the US. However, as with many of the world’s ills, it’s the British who are to blame. ‘Selfie’ was included in the 2013 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, and the following year a BBC radio presenter established June 21st as the selfie holiday. (If you think I’ve ‘left my lane’ and am unfairly criticizing the people of another nation, please read my mini bio. When I criticize the Brits, I’m criticizing myself!)

National Selfie Day is the perfect holiday for our times. It brings together three of our culture’s biggest idols in one spectacular symbol of missing the point: technology, image, and self. In other centuries, we may have had a National ‘You-ie’ Day or even a National ‘Them-ie’ Day. But ‘Self-ie’ just seems to fit so well now.

Please don’t think I’m grumbling about something that doesn’t matter. The idols of technology, image, and self damage untold numbers of victims, especially young adults and children.

I recently watched a documentary called Fake Famous about three young adults who sought fame. The show set them up with a host of digital technicians, PR gurus, and image consultants to fake, yes fake, fame. These consultants bought ‘likes’ from a robot for their clients’ Instagram posts. The young people posed for photos drinking champagne that wasn’t really champagne, eating truffles that weren’t really truffles, in exotic places that were actually their back yards or a mansion they rented for an hour. Did you know that holding up a white toilet seat with a sky-blue background will make it look like you are on a plane, flying down to Cancun for the weekend?

And, of course, the more money paid to the robots, the more fake ‘likes’ they bought. The more fake ‘likes’ they bought, the more real ‘likes’ they received. The more real ‘likes’ they received, the more famous they became. The more famous they became, the more glamorous the lies grew. And the more glamorous the lies grew, the more companies sent them products to advertise. It was beyond scary. This house of deceit twisted the souls of those three young people, two of whom became deeply and negatively affected by the experiment. But worse was imagining the countless number of young people who every day look at social media posts and feel crushing unhappiness with their own lives.

True happiness, of course, comes not from gaining a large following on social media, but from gazing into the heavens, like those early humans, and connecting with God. As Christians we believe that the fullest revelation of God is in the man Jesus. His words put it all in perfect context: “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

The Rev. Dr. Duncan Johnston has been the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery since September 2022. He was born in England and spent his first 40 years there, before emigrating to the US. He became a US citizen in 2018. Duncan is married to Gelind, a media specialist with the Food and Drug Administration. They have three adult children. Duncan loves living in the Deep South and is having a great time experiencing Alabama culture and learning about its history. He can be reached at duncan@stjohnsmontgomery.org.

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