In This Age Of Narcissus, Google’s “Gmail Shelfie” April Fools’ Day Prank Is No Joke

Of all of the April Fools’ Day jokes this year, Google’s Gmail shelfie prank got me thinking more than any other. For those of you who don’t monitor the internet 24/7 for trending pieces (and therefore probably have a much more robust social life than I do), Gmail shelfies are “shareable selfie” backgrounds for your Gmail.


The idea is super simple: you set your custom background to a selfie and then share it with your mom or your boyfriend or whoever you think wants to be staring at your ugly mug smiling face every time they check their email.




Gmail made it pretty clear from the get-go that shelfies were a joke, but the whole thing kind of feels like when Dave Chappelle had a “swapping spouses” skit on his show and then FOX came out with Trading Spouses, for realz. It’s like, okay, I get that you’re making a joke about a cultural phenomenon but the not so funny truth of the matter is – it could easily be real.


Why not so funny, Debbie Downer?

Well, boys and girls, let me tell you a little story about a world populated by frozen, identical smiles, perfectly tilted camera angles, and pretty little hands resting on slimmed-down-because-they’re-sideways hips. Let me tell you a story about a man named Narcissus and what happens when his obsession with himself becomes a favorite pastime of an entire nation.




The thing we tend to forget when we talk about the narcissism of the modern age is that Narcissus died of starvation when he couldn’t stop staring at his own image long enough to go get something to eat. Sometimes, scrolling through my Facebook feed, browsing Instagram, or thinking about how easily “shelfies” could be a real thing, I wonder about all of the tiny narcissistic deaths that must be a result of all this posing.


Where are the candid shots? The silly faces? The laughing so hard your stomach hurts and your face looks hella ugly?

emma mcgowan with cat

One of the many “bad” photos of me.

I’m not a model; far from it. I have a huge jaw, 20 extra pounds around my hips, and teeth that are still crooked even after my parents dropped thousands of dollars on orthodontics because I refused to wear my retainer when I was 15. (Sorry Mom and Dad.)


While I could easily have figured out how to hide those “deficiencies” in photos, I made the choice not to a couple of years ago when I realized that staring at carefully posed photos of myself was starting to seriously warp my self-image and was slowly leading to my own narcissistic death. Every time I looked in the mirror or saw an un-posed photo, my eyes were drawn to all the unhidden parts of me that were on full display and, somehow, even with all of those photos, I had no idea what I really looked like.


And then there’s the effect of the popularity of pics on social situations. Instead of just going out and having a good time, every outing now includes ten different moments where everyone has to stop and get into position and snap a photo of the exact same poses. Those interruptions pull us out of the exact moments we’re trying to document and commemorate and do nothing, really, but contribute to everyone’s self-consciousness about their own image when the photos pop up on Facebook.


And so, Google, I know the shelfie thing was supposed to be a joke. I know you’re poking fun at our collective narcissism but, honestly, I’m finding it kind of hard to laugh. It’s not your fault, though. Blame it on Narcissus.


Photo Credits

Gmail Blog | Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology | Benjamin Evans