Selfies reflect a new culture of living out loud, but there can be a dark side, says a UBC researcher
Taking a photo of yourself and posting it instantly to social media hit the big time when the Oxford Dictionary gave the word “selfie” the distinguished title of “international word of the year” for 2013.
Selfies are their own culture, dominating social media sites like Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram. UBC researcher Eric Li says selfie culture represents much more than a narcissistic craze for self-portraits.
“There is connectivity and an intimacy that selfies create,” says Li, an assistant professor with the Faculty of Management on UBC’s Okanagan campus, who teaches digital marketing and consumption courses.
“When people once shared travel photos, the picture-taker was at least 10 metres away. Now, our subject’s faces are at arms’ length distance—no further than that. And we’re sharing our everyday stories, like what we’re having for breakfast, not just an extraordinary life event or vacation.”
Considering that more than seven billion images are share on social media sites each month, Li says people spend a lot of time taking, looking at, and liking selfies.
Where fashion was once used to define personality, now people use selfies, he says. Since the person taking and sharing the photo has control over the “image-capturing process,” Li says selfies have become a positive form of daily self-empowerment.
Self-portraits are not new, but the intimacy and the immediacy of the selfie is new, mostly because of the advances in technology and the far-reaching impact of social media, Li says.
“Selfies are really someone’s personal brand … when you take a selfie and send it out there, you are branding yourself. You are saying ‘this is me today.’ ”
But there is a dark side to selfies, Li warns. Controversial or crazy selfies– such as selfies taken while driving, or a person committing self-harm, or a celebrity wildly partying—can go viral and lead to risky behaviour.
“When these selfies become public, people start following that person more, they become more popular and that negative, or dangerous behaviour, can also be copied,” Li adds.
Li also teaches about large corporations that have embraced selfie culture. Some use it to attract prospective customers, launch a new brand, or simply bond daily with consumers who follow them on social media. Connecting to the connected generation, Li says, may means millions in revenue.