Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Invasion of the Selfies

Selfies are pictures you take of yourself
Selfies

Selfies are pictures you take of yourself. They are showing up all across social networks — often but not exclusively posted by women. As the numbers and frequency of selfies increase, the phenomenon has garnered attention.  In our globally connected 24/7 world, anything that gets attention, gets talked about.  Some view these self-created self-portraits as proof of cultural—or at least generational— narcissism and moral decline.  And some on the other hand, view them as a by-product of technology-enabled self-exploration. Undoubtedly, many are fans of getting their finest face out there, and who better to take a stunning, heart-dropping, people-envy-me photograph than ourselves? Everyone from bloggers to celebrities to the general public tossing up countless spur-of-the-moment head shots, one stunning shot after another and posting them on social media. Why are we so obsessed with selfies and, in particular, the people who take them? The familiar if dull refrain is that selfies reflect the narcissism of our age, spurred by the easy sharing capabilities of smartphones and the cameras they house. Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr provide potentially far-reaching platforms to broadcast close-ups of our faces, particularly the ones we deem fit for consumption by others.

Writing about Instagram in a recent New York Times essay, Jenna Wortham had this to say (not specifically about selfies, but the same principles apply).  Instagram isn't about reality — it's about a well-crafted fantasy, a highlights reel of your life that shows off versions of yourself that you want to remember and put on display in a glass case for other people to admire and browse through. It's why most of the photographs uploaded to Instagram are beautiful and entertaining slices of life and not the tedious time in-between of those moments, when bills get paid, cranky children are put to bed, little spats with friends.

Selfies aren’t new, in spite of the recent surge.  Self-portraits tagged as #selfie began to appear on the photo-sharing site Flickr and on MySpace back in 2004 and the first definition of a ‘selfie’ gained entry on UrbanDictionary.com by 2005 (albeit spelled ‘selfy’).  But camera phones, especially those with front and back lens action, have made taking selfies faster and easier than ever. Young women are the biggest population of selfie-posters and you know its going mainstream when marketers jump on the bandwagon.  The Fashion Conglomerate Westfield launched a contest called “Selfies Style” soliciting selfies that highlight individual style after research indicated that six out of every ten women used their mobile device to take self-portraits, most of which end up on Facebook.  Humans have long demonstrated an interest in self-exploration.  From early Greeks to present day, people have used self-study and self-observation to explore identity and sense of self. The camera in the 1860s launched a new era of selfies, but the technology demanded skill and expense.  As the camera evolved, more and increasingly creative versions of self-portraiture appeared.  Digital cameras freed portraiture from the cost and time lag of film. Then mobile phones became cameras, too. You might not always take your camera with you, but you always have your phone.  The floodgates were open on our ability to not only document everything at no marginal cost, but share them as well. (Mobile Internet access allows easy real time posting but people can also post to a Facebook page using text messaging as well.)

Selfies are pictures you take of yourself
Selfies are pictures you take of yourself
A new study from the U.K. confirms what we've long suspected: Oversharing of Facebook photos is more than just a nuisance, and uploading a hundred "selfies" per day could very well be damaging to your real-world relationships. The study found that both excessive photo sharing and sharing photos of a certain type makes almost everyone like you less. "This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don't seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves," explained Dr. David Houghton, the study's lead author, in a statement released by Scotland's Heriot-Watt University. "It’s worth remembering that the information we post to our 'friends' on Facebook, actually gets viewed by lots of different categories of people: partners; friends; family; colleagues and acquaintances; and each group seems to take a different view of the information shared. “The study evaluated various types of photographs (self, friend, event, family, scene, object and animal), and how each affected a handful of different types of relationships (a relative, partner, close friend, colleague and a general Facebook friend). To gauge the impacts of the photos on relationships, 508 participants were then polled, and their reactions were measured on a scale of "support" and "intimacy."

Consider this: According to statistics of the top 10 tags on Instagram, two explicitly have to do with taking selfies, and the third most popular tag, #me, is devoted entirely to self-shots. That’s 67 million self-portraits. The fifth-most popular tag, #photooftheday, predominantly contains selfies, and that tag has over 56 million photos. And just straight-up announcing #selfie is the 27th-most popular tag, with over 27 million photos. So there are an absurd amount of vanity pictures of Instagram. Then there’s Snapchat. Since Snapchat is a picture messaging service, it lends itself even more to selfies, since you’re generally just taking a picture of yourself to send to your friends and romantic interests. And if you take a Snapchat picture and think “dang I look good,” you’re probably going to want to re-take and post somewhere where everyone can see it – like Instagram. So, while we’re all for snapping the best Facebook profile photo and Instagramming your heart out, we’re adding this tiny PSA: Make sure that you’re enjoying the moment you’re photographing. The photos and the comments may fade, but that one moment in time is meant to last forever —and awesome memories require no Photoshopping.

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