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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
From time to time, I have had to ask one of my grandchildren for a definition of one of the words or activities I read or hear about in today's pop culture. One of the definitions I needed was that of the "selfie." It is a picture of oneself, taken with the digital camera held at arm's length. It may include one's friends, at the pool or at the bar. Getting more of the people or the place into the picture gave rise to the "selfie stick," an invention that acts as a three-foot extension of one's arm in taking the picture, still centered on oneself.

Selfies were perhaps possible, but certainly not convenient, in my day, which was that of the 35mm SLR camera. To those of the selfie generation, that means a single-lens reflex camera using 35 mm film. I had one, with appropriate lenses and other accessories, which I carried for years to various countries of the world, "shooting" pictures to accompany my articles about pulp and paper mills and forest resources. Taking a selfie, however, was a notion that never entered my head.

And, yes, I abandoned the SLR in favor of an amazing digital camera that doesn't need any accessories because every feature I need is built into it and I don't have to feed it film. The SLR and all its accessories are now the property of my granddaughter who honestly does appreciate the technology and precision of an earlier generation.

But changes in technology do not equate to changes in people. We never took selfies, we older guys with the film cameras. But how often did we arrange for someone else to press the shutter button so we could be in the picture? And how often was the accompanying article or write-up peppered with first-person pronouns? Narcissism is a matter of intent and it knows no generational boundaries.

Selfies for most of us will have more to do with the mill than with the pool or the bar. And they will be written more often than pictorial. The narcissism of selfies will be reflected in reports that reflect well on the writer rather than on the personnel who actually achieved the advances. Reports may include pictures--so easy to insert in reports with digital equipment--but the persons in the pictures are often tell-tale.

Indulgence in selfies also knows no age or rank, from the report writer who is lowest on the totem pole to the senior exec who is writing for the benefit of the board of directors. At every level, it is easy to couch one's reporting in terms of how one has personally caused benefits and blessings to rain down on the company, whether what was achieved was in one corner of the machine room or company-wide.

The reverse also is true. Narcissism can be marked by an unwillingness to take responsibility for any degree of failure. The narcissist finds it too easy to point a finger at circumstances beyond his or her control that did not allow advance or achievement.

Before you turn in that report or write-up, examine it carefully for "selfie signs." Was the progress made actually the result of your own untiring drive and persistence? Or did it come from the team effort of your whole team? Were your negatives all the result of someone else's dedication not matching your own? Or, in the light of hindsight, were some of your decisions not the best that could have been made?

Your writing is going to be read by people who can look beyond and behind your words. Therefore, be honest in your choice of words.

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.


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