Dr. Kirby's Blog

In Selfie-Defense: Why the Selfie Trend Might Not Be Such a Bad Thing

Pope Francis. The President. Miley Cyrus. Ellen DeGeneres. You’re probably asking yourself right now, “what could these people possibly have in common?” The selfie.

Most of us can recognize a selfie when we see one: a self portrait, most typically taken at arm’s length with a cell phone. UrbanDictionary.com defines “selfie” as “A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook … or any other sort of social networking website. You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera … you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them….” These casual portraits are saturating the web; the Oxford Dictionaries even chose “Selfie” as 2013’s “Word of the Year.”

Parents are wondering what it means, celebrities are using selfies to generate more followers, and researchers are even linking the popularity of selfies to a rise in demand for plastic surgery. According to one author:

Experts say because of the craze to take pictures of yourself at every situation and in every environment, young people are uniquely in a position to examine their appearance and find it lacking.

But why do we really do it? Are selfies really a symptom of our own vanity, born out of a desire to look at ourselves?

Given that selfies by definition feature oneself as the “model,” this might appear to be the case. However, much of the current media coverage misses the point of why selfies exist and what might be the real purpose of posting them online. Perhaps the selfie trend isn’t a sign of increasing vanity after all, but rather a demonstration of how easily we can use photos to tell stories about ourselves and the world around us.

Think about the selfies you’ve seen posted by your family and friends—chances are, most of these photos aren’t taken in front of a plain wall. We take selfies on a mountaintop, at a Rangers game, or just as we’re about to go into a boutique to help our best friend find her wedding dress.

Selfies are just another way of capturing a moment, documenting that you were there: in a time and place that means something to you. That it’s you yourself taking the photo is often a matter of convenience—you don’t have to stop a stranger to take the picture, for one thing.

The days of keeping journals, letter writing, and offline storytelling are vanishing. In its place are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… the list goes on. You can now even link your social networking sites directly to photo apps online to create a “year in review” for you—an autobiography, essentially. Seen in this light, selfies are a natural way for tech-savvy smartphone users to document their experiences.

Do you take selfies? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject in a comment below.  What are you trying to tell the world when you snap and share your own photograph?

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