The rise of social media has been one of the most remarkable things to happen in the past ten years. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have redefined the way people connect and how businesses advertise. Within this revolution there is another sub phenomenon that exploded over the last 5 years; selfies. What is it? It’s the modern day self-portrait in the form of a photo. People who use to have other people take pictures for them can now do it themselves. The spread of front facing cameras through smartphones have made this trend available for both the youth and the elderly. People everywhere are taking a quick selfie of themselves; whether it’s on their way to class or visiting the Great Wall of China.
Selfies have been so ingrained into pop culture that it has completely captured the social media industry. It’s become impossible to scroll through a Facebook or Instagram feed without seeing somebody’s selfie. It’s not just social media either. There is a huge plethora of apps dedicated to selfies. The most famous is Snapchat. It’s an app that people use to send messages that are deleted immediately after they’re read. It’s become the catalyst for the spread of selfies across America. Just how big is Snapchat? Well it recently turned down a 3 billion dollar offer from Facebook. Of course, it’s not just social networking companies that are making big dollars from this trend. Photo editing tools have flooded the app stores. To “glamify” selfies people have turned to various photoshop programs and “Instagram filters”. Slapping a mayfair or lo-fi filter on a selfie is a quick easy way for people to add pop to their pictures. The purpose is to make the picture as fabulous as possible. It’s the same reason why people take pictures of their food. They want to show it to others as part of their social “resume”.
The word selfie has even officially entered the English language. The Oxford dictionary named selfie as the word of the year in 2013. In addition to becoming a part of the English dictionary, there are even songs made about it. The hit “song” #Selfie was one of the biggest of 2014. As of right now it has 300 million views on Youtube! There’s even an ABC comedy, albeit recently canceled, titled Selfie.
There is a famous phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan. He asks, “Why is this understanding of ‘the medium is the message’ particularly useful? We tend to notice changes – even slight changes (that unfortunately we often tend to discount in significance.) ‘The medium is the message’ tells us that noticing change in our societal or cultural ground conditions indicates the presence of a new message, that is, the effects of a new medium.” The medium is anything that has a profound social effect. It’s not the individual message that each selfie may hold, but how the “medium”, the selfie, has changed the way people think and act. It doesn’t matter if the person taking the selfie is in her car, or in a three star restaurant, but it’s how society reacts to being able to take and send selfies. Probably the most famous selfie ever taken is the picture above. It’s known as the “Oscar Selfie” and is one of the most heavily retweeted pictures in Twitter history. Since then it has spread like wildfire. Even president Obama was caught taking a selfies with world leaders.
Selfies are not just an American pop cultural trend. It’s global. It’s a trend that has no signs of slowing down. The selfie has become a type of photo that can be done by anybody who owns even the cheapest of smartphones. While many will say it’s an indicator of our narcissistic society, but it’s simply another way for people to show themselves to others.