FORT KENT, Maine — If Polonius were around today dispensing advice to a modern day Laertes, he may very well have told him, “To thine own selfie, be true.”
Needless to say, Shakespeare penned the tragedy of Hamlet centuries before we had computers, iPhones, tablets and any manner of digital media all connected through the wonder that is the Internet.
In the Bard’s day, “sharing your status” meant sharing a few pints at the local pub where you “checked in” by hollering to your friends as they walked by.
“Posting” one’s thoughts, feelings or opinions was literally that — writing them on parchment and then nailing them to the nearest post.
Fast forward a few centuries where we have become a society obsessed with ourselves to the point at which the marriage between the Internet and social media has allowed us to alert and show the entire world what we had for dinner, how we spent our day or the latest cute thing our pets have done.
And, before I go any further, I will say this right up front: guilty as charged.
On any given day I have shared, posted, updated, liked and commented via Facebook on any number of things, including what my Facebook pals shared, posted, updated, liked or commented upon.
Self expression through visual media is certainly nothing new. We all remember those family gatherings or trips when someone set a camera up on a tripod or picnic table, assembled the group in front of it, hit the “self timer” button and sprinted back to the group the instant the shutter clicked.
In fact, some of any family’s best photos are of that hapless photographer, who was caught mid-dash.
Now we have the latest craze — selfies — photos taken by the subject of themselves. This is proving to be foolhardy and expensive.
At the last annual Running of the Bulls in Spain, a tourist was fined $4,100 for snapping a selfie while running from dozens of angry bulls.
He was caught and identified, needless to say, when someone posted online their own selfie catching the guy in the act.
More recently, aspiring and narcissistic photographers have added real elements of danger and risk to the Tour de France bicycle race.
As if this is a sport not already dangerous enough, wherein cyclists race down the Alps and Pyrenees attaining speeds of 60 mph on bicycles that weigh about as much as a smartphone.
This year, fans — many of whom already place themselves and cyclists in danger by jumping out into the path of the riders while waving national flags or signs — are now stepping out with their backs to the approaching peloton. All to get a shot of themselves with those athletes as the backdrop.
American rider Tejay Van Garderen sustained a knee injury when he collided with an oblivious fan with his back turned to the cyclists.
Not only is the practice posing very real risks for the cyclists, I find it a bit odd that people spend thousands of dollars, wait hours in all kinds of weather and when the racers finally appear they turn their backs on them.
Of course, here at Rusty Metal Farm, I will admit to snapping a selfie from time to time. Often they involve two of my favorite things: cycling and dogs.
And, much to my delight, I have found a new venue for the cycling shots.
There is a page on Facebook titled Look at My Bike Leaning Against Stuff, which is described by its administrators as “a place to show off how well your bike leans against stuff, pretty straightforward.”
And I love it. I can’t explain why, but it has me hooked.
People post photos of their bikes leaning on trees, bridges, landmarks, buildings, signs and even other bikes.
I’ve managed to post a few of my own shots taken from rides around the St. John Valley and, like those self-tographers running from bulls or snapping shots of tour racers, not always without risk.
On a ride with a couple of friends last week we came upon several great cycling photo ops. We’d stop, dismount, rummage for cameras, get our shots and be on our way.
That is, until we got to the potato field in full bloom.
I mean, really, what says “cycling in northern Maine” like a carpet of potato flowers against a brilliant blue sky?
So excited was I about the vision of my road bike setting among all that bucolic beauty I sort of messed up on the whole dismount thing by forgetting to “unclip” from my pedals and over I went, crashing down onto the pavement.
Luckily, I was not moving all that fast, and — more importantly — my body cushioned my bike from the fall and any damage.
Still, it was a good reminder to heed the advice of old Polonius, though I doubt he was talking about cyclists, pedals or cameras when he said, “Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment.”
Or, as it was in my own case, “scrape thy palm with gravel,” though I suspect my friends were at least a bit entertained.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part-time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.