Monday, July 1, 2013

The Selfie Photo: OK?

Excerpts from Is the rise of the 'selfie' harmless fun or a sign of society's growing narcissism?
By Leanne Italie

In these hyper-connected, over-shared times dwell two kinds of people: those preoccupied with taking and uploading photos of themselves and those who have never heard of the selfie.

Now, nearly a decade since the arm-extended or in-the-mirror photos became a mainstay of MySpace - duck face or otherwise - selfies are a pastime across generations and cultures.

Justin Bieber puts up plenty with his shirt off and Rihanna poses for sultry snaps, but a beaming Hillary Clinton recently took a turn with daughter Chelsea, who tweeted their happy first attempt with the hashtag #ProudDaughter.

The ultimate selfie, and that's no flash reflection
Two other famous presidential daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama, selfied at dad's second inauguration, pulling faces in front of a smartphone.

And Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide earned a spot in the Selfie Hall of Fame with a striking, other-worldly shot, arms extended as reflected in his helmet outside the International Space Station last year.

"It just comes so naturally after a point,'' said Elizabeth Zamora, a 24-year-old marketing account coordinator in Dallas who has taken hundreds of selfies since she got her first iPhone two years ago, with the front-facing camera that has become the selfie gold standard.

"You just take it and you don't even realise it and then you're sharing it with all your friends,'' she said. "I try not to go crazy.''

The practice of freezing and sharing our thinnest slices of life has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term selfie as a possible addition.

On Instagram alone, there's #selfiesunday, along with related tags where millions of selfies land daily. More than 23 million photos have been uploaded to the app with the tag #selfie and about 70 million photos clog Instagram's #me.

What are we to make of all this navel-gazing (sometimes literally)? Are selfies, by definition, culturally dangerous? Offensive? An indicator of moral decline?

Beverly Hills, California, psychiatrist Carole Lieberman sees narcissism with a capital N.

"The rise of the selfie is a perfect metaphor for our increasingly narcissistic culture. We're desperately crying out: Look at me!''

But Pamela Rutledge doesn't see it that way. The director of the nonprofit Media Psychology Research Centre, which explores how humans interact with technology, sees the selfie as democratising the once-snooty practice of self-portraiture, a tradition that long predates Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

"Albrecht Durer's self-portraiture is these incredible self-reflections and explorations of technique, and then when Rihanna snaps her picture it's just self-aggrandisement, or it's promotion, so you have a fairly interesting double standard based upon who's taking the self-portrait,'' said Ms Rutledge, in Boston.

In selfies, we can be famous and in control of our own images and storylines. As for the young, the more authority figures - parents, teachers - dislike them and "declare them a sign of a self-obsessed, narcissistic generation, the more desirable they become,'' she said.

The word selfie in itself carries multiple connotations, Ms Rutledge observes. "The 'ie' at the end makes selfie a diminutive, implying some affection and familiarity.'' From a semantic's perspective, the selfie is a "little' self'' - a small, friendly bit of the self, she said.

There's a sense of immediacy and temporariness. "Granted, little is really temporary on the Internet, but it is more that by definition. Transient, soon to be upstaged by the next one,'' Ms Rutledge said.

"What's most interesting to me is how we're trying to grapple with what it means,'' Ms Rutledge said.

"We know what it means when we see somebody's picture of their kid holding a soccer ball. We're OK with that. And we know what it means to have a portrait in a high school yearbook or of a real estate agent on a business card. We know how to think about all of those things, but we don't know how to think about this mass production of self-reflection.''

"In the era of the Kardashians, everyone has become their own paparazzi,'' mused Rachel Weingarten, a personal-brand consultant in New York.


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