The selfie, or a picture that a person takes of him or herself for the purpose of sharing online, is becoming an international phenomenon. Social media sites are full of selfies, the vast majority of which are taken by teens or young adults. The impact that this phenomenon is having on society is a matter for debate. In Robert Wilcox’s essay entitled The Age of the Selfie: Endless Need to Share Tears Society’s Last Shred of Decency, as cited in Ramage, J Et Al (2016), the author argues emphatically that selfies are not only annoying and oversharing with people who don’t care, but also dangerous to the person who is sharing. The author’s argument is not as effective as it could have been, because he tends to talk down to his audience and uses language that might put off those who engage in social media, which would be a large part of his target audience. Wilcox’s attempted argument is made less effective by the fact that his ethos is not particularly strong, he places too much emphasis on pathos, and the use of logos in the paper is too bogged down by the author’s condescending tone.
The ethos that Wilcox presents to his audience does not help him win his argument. As the editor of the high-school newspaper, he seems only marginally credible to the students that surround him, and not credible at all as an expert on this topic to anyone outside the high school. The only strong point of Wilcox’s ethos is that he is a teenager, and is therefore one of those in the age range most likely to be posting selfies. This strong point, however, is counterbalanced by the tone of the article, which is informal. The essay makes frequent use of the first and second pronouns, making it an opinion piece, but has little fact to balance out the statement of opinion. This may make the article’s audience dismiss the piece as merely one teen’s opinion, and therefore of little weight.
What the article lacks in ethos, it attempts to make up in pathos. Wilcox uses strongly worded phrases to connect with his audience. From the outset, he includes himself in those opposing the posting of selfies by referring to that group of people as “we” (Ramage, 2016. 534). The group of people to whom he is speaking, those who post selfies, is “you”. (Ramage, 2016. 534). The message that he is trying to send to the “you” group is that posting selfies is annoying. He is attempting to use emotion to convince the “we” group to agree with him. He appeals to the annoyance factor of that group, and mentions their over-all disinterest in the lies of the selfie posters. He says of their need to post what is going on in their lives: “really, we don’t care” (Ramage, 2016. 534). Wilcox uses ethos to connect with the portion of his audience who is already set to agree with his opinion, those that think that posting selfies is annoying and boring.
The problem with Wilcox’s use of pathos is that he actively alienates the portion of his audience who does post selfies. The purpose of the article is supposedly to convince selfie posters to stop their actions. In order for him to convince them, though, he needs to get them on his side. The article frequently uses insulting language and condescension when speaking of or to this group of people, however. At the opening of the article, he calls the practice of posting selfies a “disgrace” (Ramage, 2016. 534). Those who post selfies are exhibitionist, fanatics, annoying, and self-obsessed. (Ramage 2016. 534). For someone who is attempting to convince a group of people to stop a behavior, he does a remarkably good job at alienating the people he is trying to convince. While the pathos of the article will serve to strengthen his ties with the no-selfies group, it will ultimately make his argument fail because the selfies posters will take offence at his characterization of their activities.
Another way in which Wilcox uses pathos to make his argument is by appealing to the fear of the selfie posters. He asks them to think about who is viewing their photos and what these people may be doing with them. There could be “creeps” viewing the photos (Ramage, 2016. 534-535). He speaks of the practice of selfie posting as “dangerous” (Ramage, 2016. 534). This is the one place where pathos might convince selfie posters to stop posting, though he insults that portion of his audience so much that the effectiveness of the appeal to their fear is lost. Though selfie posters might be encouraged by fear to think about what kind of pictures they post, Wilcox’s characterization of their actions is only going to bring out emotions that may make them actively disregard what might be otherwise good advice.
Like his use of pathos, Wilcox’s use of logos also falls short of his target. His use of the argument that selfies may be used by unknown people for questionable purposes would be stronger if he had some actual data or facts to support the argument, rather than mere opinion. A few facts and figures, or references to cases in the past where selfies have been used to harm someone might have gone a long way toward strengthening his argument. His other use of logos is to ask selfie posters exactly why they feel they need to share their lives in this way. He writes: “Why is it so important that everyone else in the world know every nuance of your daily life?” (Ramage, 2016. 535). This question might prompt some thought on the part of the selfie posters to determine what about themselves makes them want to share their lives online, which might make them reconsider. However, the way he has treated the selfie posters in the essay is more likely to make his selfie posting audience defensive than thoughtful, and the logos will fail to convince them to stop posting selfies.
Wilcox does not use pathos, ethos or logos particularly well in this article. It will be wholeheartedly supported by no-posters, but dismissed as insulting by those who post selfies. This essay is not likely to slow down the phenomenon of teenage selfie posting even a little.
- Ramage, J. D., Bean, J.C., and Johnson, J (2016). Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings. 10th ED. Pearson Education. 534-535. https://digitalbookshelf.southuniversity.edu/#/books/9781323108642/cfi/0!/4/2/12/58@0:0. Retrieved July 29, 2016.