Look at me, at a Beyoncé concert! Look at me, with the Pope! Look at me, at a funeral! Look at me, in class while my teacher is going into labor! Yes, 2013 is the year of the selfie — but that doesn't mean this global #me craze won't be even bigger in 2014.
On Instagram — “the epicenter of the selfie revolution” — there are currently over 53 million photos tagged simply with the hashtag #selfie. In a seven-day period from October 20 through 27 on Facebook, “selfie” was mentioned in user status updates over 368,000 times. In that same period on Twitter, #selfie was used in over 150,000 tweets. But just when we thought, just maybe, this was the peak of the craze, a new social network emerges that's focused entirely on, yep, selfies.
How did we get here? Way back in 2006, Time Magazine named “You” their Person of the Year, citing the “World Wide Web as a tool that is bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter.” At that time, YouTube was all the rage, and phones took postage-stamp-sized pictures. As Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and Snapchat have risen up to join YouTube as ideal places to put self-imagery, the smartphone revolution gave us the perfect tool to document our bodies and our selves.
“With the rise of smartphones and social media, everybody who has the inclination to make photographic self-portraits can now do it and shoot it out the world,” said Christopher Phillips, the head curator at the International Center of Photography in New York City.
“That is a massive change and hasn’t been totally absorbed by our culture. People need to figure out who they are and how they fit into our culture. Self-portraiture, frankly, is a great means of doing that.”
Enter the developers of Selfie, a new smartphone application that's banking on it. It's a little like Instagram, in that it shows you a feed of public photos from the people you follow. Only thing is, Selfie only allows you to upload photos from your front-facing smartphone camera. And also unlike Instagram, Selfie doesn't allow commenting or filters to “fix” or “sharpen” your image.
Founder Joshua Nguyen, a veteran of powerhouse photo networks Flickr and Tumblr, says that his goal with Selfie is for people to be able to share life’s everyday moments rather than a filtered, curated view of a life that seems perfect.
At his previous companies, Nguyen says, he saw the explosive growth of selfie publishing. “We thought about online communication, and we realized that while people enjoy looking at images of sunsets and your food, we actually prefer to see images of our own faces,” he added.
By disabling the ability to comment, Nguyen hopes teenagers see this as a chance to post photos without fear of the judgment that they face on other social networks. And by letting people respond to selfies with selfies, he hopes to bring about a new kind of social interaction, a "huge change."
“This is a real app where people can confront who they really are and their identity through an easy way to capture themselves at any time,” Nguyen said. “Our focus is on your regular day and less on those look-at-me moments.”
Similar to Snapchat, the self-destructing person-to-person picture mail service, the photos in Selfie also disappear (with options of 4 hours, 3 days or 2 weeks). In the beginning, that was mainly a storage issue for the startup. But Nguyen says the feature is also a calculated move.
“When it’s permanent, people feel like their selfie needs to be really good, which makes you less likely to share it,” says Nguyen. “By keeping it temporary, it’s less about what you look like and more about sharing what you’re actually doing.”
There are, however, no privacy settings — any image someone puts out there can be seen by anybody, at least until it self-destructs.
Despite all of the complaints and articles vilifying the selfie, they’re not going anywhere, not as long as we keep posting them with apps like Selfie and Snapchat, and liking and commenting on them on Instagram and other networks. They’re the cool thing to revile, but much like the Real Housewives, they’re pretty much here to stay.