The Year of the Selfie: What 2013 Revealed To Us About Human Nature


The Oxford Dictionary has named selfie the word of the year for 2013. For those not yet familiar with the term, selfie is slang for self-portrait. Typically, selfies are impromptu photos taken with handheld cameras, such as one might find on a cell phone. Anyone with a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account has no doubt encountered photos of girls doing the duck-face into a bathroom mirror on a daily basis this past year–the most common form of selfie out there today, although a new pose called the “sparrow face” is rising in popularity. The selfie has become such a part of our cultural fabric this year that Buzzfeed even compiled a list of the “most important selfies of 2013”. Brace yourself–the list includes the shirtless Geraldo shot. Yikes. It also includes a group of teens taking a selfie with the Pope. Cute. An ad agency even created a campaign featuring great moments   in history as–you guessed it–selfies.

While selfies have invaded every corner of pop culture this year, they are generally viewed with a bit of head-shaking. Sharing a page with selfie in the Oxford Dictionary is the word selfish, which Oxford defines as “lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure”. Looking at selfies collectively, it does seem they are quite often selfish in nature. Taking dozens of pictures of yourself staring into the camera exudes a level of navel-gazing in which our hearty pioneer ancestors had no time to engage, even if they’d had the technology. Many selfies are taken in bathrooms, which aren’t the most attractive places in which to have your photo taken. Generally, any room with a toilet is not a great setting for a picture. Still, the bathroom-mirror-shot is relatively tame compared to these other types of selfies:

The Funeral Selfie: As the name implies, these are photos taken in connection with funerals or memorial services. Some felt it was inappropriate for President Obama to be part of a selfie taken during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, which led to CNN actually posting a piece on the etiquette of selfies at funerals. Of course, that selfie seen around the world pales in comparison to the tactlessness shown in the Tumblr ,“Selfies at Funerals”. Just, don’t. Ever.

The Suicide Attempt Selfie: Thankfully, this did not catch on as a trend. Still, it was more than a little disturbing to see even once. A woman in New York noticed that a man was atop the Brooklyn Bridge, contemplating suicide. Officers arrived on the scene to try and talk the man down, which they were fortunately able to do. While the man was still on the bridge, talking to officers, the female witness snapped a selfie with the would-be-jumper and the officers in the background. Seriously, why would anyone do this?


Ok, so this Captain of the Titanic mock-selfie is kind of funny…

The Laugh at Someone Else’s Pain Selfie: A couple of months ago, a student took a grinning selfie while his pregnant teacher was clearly experiencing intense labor pains in the background. This is nothing compared to the tastelessness of two drunk men in China who took a selfie with the body of a car crash victim in the background. Most disturbingly, a young man who killed his own mother took a selfie while holding up the victim’s severed head. Obviously this is an extreme example of selfies gone wrong, but it just shows where our culture has gone with its obsession with capturing everything we do in pictures.

There are a few occasions where a self-portrait has merit on a grander scale. Last week, astronaut Mike Hopkins took an amazing selfie while making repairs to the International Space Station. The swirling white-and-blue-ball that is Earth loomed awesomely behind him.   A few months ago, a proud climber took a photo of himself at the top of Mount Everest , where the very curve of our planet was visible in the background.   These are selfies the world should see; they give us views from vantage points we will likely never encounter in our lifetimes. So as we head into 2014, may selfies become focused on quality, versus quantity, and may the duck-face become extinct.

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