Emerging Trends: Selfie culture
In this article, Questia Group focuses on the selfie culture. Our research was conducted through an online survey on our platform http://questia.ro covering 487respondents, with a plus or minus 4% margin of error. The survey was active between 25 and 27 July 2017. Our key findings are presented below.
The cultural fascination with social media forms of self-portraiture like the ‘selfie’ is polarized between those who consider the phenomenon as merely a shallow expression of online narcissism and those who try to better understand and study it. For the latter, the selfie ‘culture’ flourishes as one of the most effective outlets for self-definition.
The urge to compulsively take self-portraits has been linked to narcissism. This means that the more narcissistic you are, the heavier your social media use is. One article in The Guardian, citing scientific studies that analyze the use of social media and how it correlates with different types of personalities, shows that the number of status updates, attractive selfies, check-ins, followers, and friends, are all positively correlated with narcissism, as is the tendency to accept invites from strangers, particularly when they are attractive. Studies show that the reason for these correlations is that narcissistic individuals are much more likely to use social media to portray a desirable, albeit unrealistic, self-image, accumulate virtual friends and broadcast their life to an audience.
Other possible side-effects of the selfie culture relate to the fact that we care more than ever before about how we appear and, as a consequence, social acceptance comes only when the outside world accepts the way we look, rather than endorsing the work we do or the way we behave off-camera.
Yet, selfies have existed in numerous forms before the smartphones existed. Andy Warhol’s experimentation in the 1970s with the Polaroid camera, Jack Nicholson with Stanley Kubrick on the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, are just some examples. Regardless of when they first appeared, the selfies started to spread and become a mass/global phenomenon with the introduction of the iPhone 4 which came along in 2010 with a front-facing camera. The ‘dangers’ associated with it – be them injuries or deaths, the constant comparison game between teenagers; or other pathological aspects connected to personality disorders may be connected to what researchers call “moral panic”. Moral panic tends to heighten when a particular media form or practice is adopted by young people, women, or people of color (see for instance the scandal connected to the “Selfiegate”). According to Stuart Hall (1978), media panics almost always act as smoke screens deflecting conversations that would be more dangerous to those in authority.
When consulting the literature focusing on the selfie culture from media and cultural studies, art history and visual culture, Internet, technology and social media studies, anthropology, sociology, and film studies (see for instance the Selfies Research Network), one finds various understandings to this approach. For instance, marketers deploy selfies as an indicator that one is young, fun, and connected: a quick look through any advertisement for digital imaging equipment these days seems to feature a happy consumer snapping a selfie. Anthropologists David Nemer and Guo Freeman found that teens from the Brazilian favelas posted selfies “to speak about violence in their area, to self-document their lives, and let their parents know they were safe during the day.” Photography theorist Paul Frosh suggests that selfies invite spectators to reflect on the “very instability of the term ‘self’, to think of identity “between the self as an image and as a body, as a constructed effect of representation and as an object and agent of representation.”
According to Selfies: Witnessing and Participatory Journalism with a Point of View, when one takes and uploads selfies such as “those taken with burning trash containers during the May Day protests in Barcelona, Spain or selfies taken with members of the Thai Army in Bangkok after the military coup,” the image says not just “I’m here” but rather “I witnessed this event.” This may bring to light “different perspectives or points of view that, when shared and observed together, can provide and map multiple perspectives of an event.” From these perspectives to those portraying politically oppositional and aesthetic form of resistance it takes only a few steps.
Thus, selfies should be understood in an interdisciplinary international and multilayered approach, considering that the cultural aspects of the selfie vary from a society to the other. The purpose of which they are used, the discourse surrounding them and the level of social acceptance are some of the many facets of the phenomenon.
As for Romania, most respondents (89.8%) of the respondents consider that they are very or somewhat familiarized with the selfie concept. As previously mentioned, since 2010 almost all smartphones have incorporated a front-facing camera.
Also, the majority of respondents (90.3%) admitted having taken at least one selfie.
Most respondents take between 1 to 3 selfies per week (52.5%), and only a few (9.5%) say they take more than 5 per week. Some (28.4%) say they haven’t taken any selfie until now.
The reasons respondents take selfies are to send them to relatives/friends (52.7%), to see how they look in a particular situation (41.0%), to mark the state they are in (37.5%) or to share them on social media (34.4%). This shows only some of the underpinnings previously discussed related to the digital self.
Regarding the social norms connected to taking a selfie, this approach has been previously tackled in the US and the UK. Most respondents agree that it is acceptable to take a selfie on a tourist destination, at a wedding/baptism/birthday, at a restaurant/in a club or a party, as well as on the street. This shows that the places to take selfies are associated with public places where other people would also be taking photos. However, respondents agreed that is inappropriate to take selfies at work/school, or in a public transport and in the bathroom/tub.
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