And the 2013 award for Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is…. Selfie. Now folks, for all of you that are worried that the English language is going down the toilet, let’s keep in mind that “selfie” is part of the Oxford Dictionary Online, and not the Oxford English Dictionary, and the two are very different. The ODO focuses on current and practical usage, while the OED shows how words and meanings have changed over time. Basically, fad words like “twerk” can be put in the ODO and taken out, but words aren’t really ever removed from the OED.
Now that we’ve got that settled, how does O.D. define the word of the year? Selfie is “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” Yep that sounds about right, but why is this the word of the year now? How long have selfies been around for?
While 2013 may be the year of the selfie, they were here long before 2013.
The First Selfie?
Who is this dapper fellow? Meet the man who took the very first selfie in 1839. Robert Cornelius, a Philadelphia photographer, is believed to be the first person to turn the camera on himself, or at least to document doing so. And he looks more composed than most selfies taken these days, huh?
But What About Self Portraits?
Much like my post on when social media began, do you really need a camera to take a selfie? A camera is not necessarily the only things that captures the essence of a selfie. In fact, were cave paintings the first instance of selfies?
The Lascaux Caverns in France are famous for their Paleolithic cave paintings, which are estimated to be 17,300 years old. Was this the first instance of a caveman trying to recreate his own image? Painting a selfie on a rock wall?
And what about self portraits, are they in a sense selfies as well? With the invention of the mirror, artists were more easily able to paint/draw themselves, and create their own selfies. In the 15th and 16th centuries Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo hopped on the selfie-art train. In the 17th century, Rembrandt sketches his own selfies – below you see him doing the famous selfie lip pout.
And lets not forget about Vincent Van Vogh’s collection of self portraits from the 19th century. So even though the technology of the modern day selfie did not exist yet, the idea of the selfie has been around for a long time.
The Selfies of Today
So selfies have been around for a long time, but they are certainly different in todays world. Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Da Vinci had skills that not everyone possessed, but now anyone can create/take a selfie with camera. And with camera-phones, everyone is carrying a camera all the time. People now have the ability to take a picture anytime and at any place. Not to mention that with front-facing cameras on phones, taking a selfie has never been easier. And lets not forget how simple it is to share selfies. Famous painters spent countless hours creating one self portraits on a piece of paper or canvas, and that one copy could be owned by one person; as a result not many people got to see it. But with Instagram, Facebook, and other forms of social media, sharing a selfie has never been easier. Lets pause for a second and think about the number of selfies that are sent via snapchat – we know that 70% of Snapchat users are women, but I wonder what percentage of Snapchats sent are selfies?
The Selfies of Tomorrow
It is clear that selfies have changed a lot from past to present, so I wonder – what will they be like in the future? Terms for selfies are already changing; “wefie” is a selfie that is taken by multiple people and “belfie” is a bottom-half selfie (think Kim Kardashian). Selfie.com will soon be a thing of the present. And Wired has an article that argues that the drone sof the future won’t kill people, they will take selfies of people. Will we no longer have to pull a phone out of our pockets to take a selfie? Will a robot just do it for us? And will that change the entire idea of a selfie, since they could look like another person just took the photo?
Regardless of what selfies will be like in the future, I do think that they are here to stay. Much like social media, selfies fulfill human needs. They help people explore themselves and create a social identity. They can be normalizing; there is a reason why many celebrities take one selfie after another. Lastly, selfies help people tell stories and make it possible to create a life narrative through images; people like Margo’s teacher take pictures of themselves every day and make a photo diary. How cool is it that we can see minute changes in a person’s face over 30 years? The selfie culture is not new, it is just more widespread and has become hot topic because of social media. People have always been taking and creating selfies, it just has never been so easy to make and distribute one before. So should we really be so worried about selfies? I say embrace the selfie. Oxford Dictionary has. And who knows – maybe “selfie” will make the move from the ODO to the OED in the future.