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  Book Reviews

Beyond Me, My Selfie, & I ,

Finding  Real Happiness in a Self-Absorbed World

by Teresa Tomeo

Reviewed by Marianne Komek
St. John Paul II Parish. Perth Amboy, New Jersey.


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 Teresa Tomeo tackles the problem of taking excessive selfies and how it leads to narcissism. Using that topic as a springboard, she then dissects the bad effects of Social Media and television. She cites cases in which, when used in the wrong way, they can leave us feeling disconnected from God and others. We can become totally caught up in a world of illusion, to the extent that there is little personal interaction with people living in the world around us.

She illustrates these points by using the stories of individuals who had been a part of the selfie craze and in standing out on Social Media platforms. Nineteen-year-old Danny Bowman attempted suicide when he was upset because he was obsessed with perfection and had not obtained the perfect selfie. A successful young Australian-born model, nineteen-year-old Essena O’Neill, had eight-hundred thousand followers on Instagram. In 2015, she told them that her images were repeatedly edited and she did not know what was real anymore. She told those who had been her fans, “Go outside, go to a park, go to a beach, go somewhere where there are people around you. What I am doing here is a statement that real life isn’t through screens.”

Another problem with selfies is that they can cause people to undergo drastic cosmetic surgery in the search for the perfect face and the approval of potential romantic interests and employers.

Tourists have taken selfies in dangerous terrain and some have died as a result of it. One young woman fell off a bridge, another sixty-year-old woman fell off the steps of the Taj Mahal. A man used a selfie stick in Disney California’s Adventure Park‘s roller coaster. The ride had to stop for an hour to prevent an accident from occurring as it could have hit someone. The problem is so acute that the Russian government has issued a How Not To Take Selfies pamphlet.

Tomeo describes a trip to the Italian Lake District with her husband, Dominick. During a cable card ride during the entire time, a young couple took non-stop selfies and later spent their time reviewing them. They didn’t “stop and smell the roses” and missed the grandeur of God’s creation. One could say that this abuse of selfies-taking gets in the way of living in the sacrament of the present moment. 

According to a study at Baylor University, female students used their cell phones as much as ten hours a day, and male students as much as eight hours a day. Tomeo says, “Twenty-five percent of cell phone users in a marriage or partnership felt that their spouse or partner was distracted by his or her cell phone when they were together.”  With people being so technologically plugged in, it is no small wonder that they become self-absorbed and have little time for God and others.         

She also discusses the impact of the Internet. A study from Hanna Krasnova at Berlin’s Humboldt University in Germany stated, “We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated, or angry.” This can lead them to try to keep up with the Joneses or the modern day Kardashians, whose shallow exploits Tomeo condemns.

 In 2014, Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington said that pornography on the Internet and on television is an addiction which “obscures and destroys people’s ability to see one another as beautiful expressions of God’s creation ... and condoned as just another form of entertainment.” Tomeo says that “there is not much godly or wholesome content in the media land which gives consumers a very skewed view of the world.” For this, reason, she urges them to support quality programming on television as an alternative to sex and violence laden content.

It is her contention that the Church is often misrepresented in the media and that you must go to reliable Catholic media outlets to get the truth.

Along with her incisive analysis of the abuses of Social Media and television, Tomeo provides a remedy for combating their negative influences.  She provides Gospel passages about how we are called by Jesus to be fully engaged in the world around us, helping our neighbor, and thereby, loving God.

She quotes Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope St. John Paul II, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in how this can be achieved. Tomeo also illustrates how St. Teresa of Avila of the fifteenth century cut back on time wasted as a “Chatty Cathy” to spend time in prayer and reflection with God.

Tomeo says that modern technology has good applications when used in the right way and not abused.

There are quizzes and “Come To The Quiet” as well as “Time For Self-Reflection” at the end of each chapter to assess how what she is saying applies to your individual circumstances. She offers advice on how families and individuals can overcome the tendency to be addicted to technology.

In the end, Tomeo says that, as Catholic Christians, our lives should not be about EGO, or Easing God Out. It should be about JOY, Jesus first, Others, second, Yourself, last. In this way, we will find true and lasting happiness, based in reality.