Paul Greenberg

Lost in a world I never made, I'm still just as mystified as I was that day in Florence. The young man I saw is probably entering a proper and prosperous middle-aged life by now, fortified by pasta and his growing family and waistline. And still talking/texting/snapping like mad. Modern Times, it's called. And has been since Charlie Chaplin made the movie by that name sometime in the Thirties, and gave it a frenetic pace that anticipated our own, when we're all in a great hurry to get nowhere in particular. We may not know where we're going, but we're making great time. Like the RMS Titanic.

The word of the year in 2013, which is already the past, was selfie. Which has come to mean since its origin as a buzzword in Australian social media a self-taken photograph via iPhone or similar gadget. That's according to the Oxford Dictionaries, which keeps track of these verbal infelicities. On its shortlist this year were runners-up like binge-watch, v., and Bitcoin, n., which also have the fraudulent sound of these times about them: artificial, wasteful, self-delusional ... anything to avoid having to come to grips either with others or reality. Solitude, what's that? Clearly an archaic concept of some sort.

Naturally enough, the most notorious selfie of the year in 2013 starred our selfie-in-chief. What made it notorious was that it was taken at a memorial service -- Nelson Mandela's. It showed the president posing with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Not shown were the Dearly Departed, who doubtless had another engagement at the time, and the First Lady.

Photos of the photo were soon circulating everywhere on the World Wide Web, and they featured Mrs. Obama looking on with an expression that might be summed up in the words of Her Majesty Victoria at the turn of another century: "We are not amused."

No one may know what's going on in his own marriage, let alone that of others, but our First Lady has my entire sympathy. It can't be easy being married to someone who is so clearly in love with himself.

Now, Gentle Reader, if you'll just hold that pose....


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.