Not another “selfie” please. The smug shots, pouty lips, sexy poses that are at best visual diaries; and at worst narcissistic. 2013 is arguably the year of digital bragging where everyone including the Pope, the British and Danish Prime Ministers; and most recently US President Obama have been spotted clicking self portraits. For the uninitiated, the Oxford Dictionary defines “selfie” as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website."
“Selfie” was chosen as the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year after a 17,000 % increase in its usage. As of July, there were an estimated 90 million photographs on Instagram, a photo editing app. Snapchat, a photo based messaging service, processes 350 million photos each day. Twitter, which only allows users to send short messages of not more than 140 characters, took much longer to reach these numbers despite having been launched in 2006.
It is no secret that humans have long exhibited an interest in self-discovery. Even the brightest minds of early Greek history, Plato and Socrates, studied human behavior, identity and the sense of self. It was only a matter of time before self-discovery led to self-portrait. The wealthy and powerful of Ancient Egypt commissioned self-portraits. Once mirrors became commonplace in the 15th century, an increased number of artists attempted to paint themselves.
But it wasn’t until 1839 when something akin to a “selfie” was first taken by camera pioneer Robert Cornelius.
In the 1880s photo booths attracted groups of friends to take photos of themselves much like we see today. But of course the “Q Camera” gadget of today has taken the egotistical instinct to a whole new level by allowing photos to be shared instantly over social media websites with a mere a click of the camera shutter button.
The popular adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is certainly apt in this Internet era where images and photos have become more effective in conveying a reaction than words. Indeed, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the nonprofit Media Psychology Research Center, says: “We are hard-wired to respond to faces. It’s unconscious. Our brains process visuals faster; we are more engaged when we see faces. If you’re looking at a whole page of photos, the ones you will notice are the close-ups and ‘selfies’.”
Dr Aaron Balick, a psychotherapist who has written about the human motivations behind social networking, explains that we have both active and passive online identities. “A passive one is like when you search for yourself, or when friends post information about you - it’s the online identity that you have no control over,” he explains.
“Active online identities are ones you can control, like a Facebook profile, he said. “A ‘selfie’ is an expression of an active online identity, something you have some control over.”
But how many photos can our brains take in a day. Therein lies the problem. “Selfies” have provided a platform for people who already have a narcissistic bent to go overboard . Perhaps “selfie” junkies, who get a boost with a spate of “likes” and who get devastated by a resounding silence, should learn from well-known model Kelly Brook – who has taken so many “selfies” that she has banned herself from it.
Anita Othman is a freelance writer slaving away on her novel. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.