Why "selfie" has been named Word of the Year 2013

The definition of the word “Selfie” according to Oxford Dictionaries: “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or web cam, and uploaded it to social media.”

Beginning as a term originally used only on social networking sites as a media tag for self-taken self-portraits, the frequency of the word “selfie” in our language has increased by a whopping 17,000% over this past year according to studies carried out by the Oxford dictionary editors.

Why has the “selfie” become a global phenomenon?

Taking photographs of ourselves, usually by ourselves, has become a viral activity. According to a survey carried out by The Daily Mail, Britons post around 35 million selfies a month! Why has this seemingly vain (and rather awkward) activity become so popular?

It’s arguable that the evolution of the smartphone’s second, forward facing camera, which directly faces the smartphone user, has encouraged the growth of the “selfie” culture. This invites users to take spur-of-the-moment captions, wherever they are, and share it on social networking sites, in seconds.

Surely it’s vain, and bizarre, to take the time to photograph one’s self, share it online and assume that one’s friends: a) want to look at your face b) care about the photograph of your face enough to comment or “like” the image. But a closer look at the how the selfie community functions on social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram, indicates that these images may have several, deeper purposes.What is the purpose of a selfie?

On the surface, it may well be the case that at least some selfies are a way for individuals to seek praise regarding their looks, hair style or new outfit. Essentially, they are hoping for friends and followers to “like” the image and to tell them that they’re “pretty” or are sporting a “cute outfit.” Friends also are spending increasing amounts of time taking pictures of themselves together at parties to show others what they’re up to and in a sense reinforcing their own personal self-esteem and security.

Facebook and especially Instagram communities welcome the posting of selfies and actively support them.  Searching for “#selfie” on Instagram, for example, immediately presents me with an incredible 57, 267, 657 images.

Sharing and Experimenting

For some, selfies are about seeking reassurance and praise, for others it’s a quick, easy way to let family, friends and followers know what one’s up to. It’s your first day of work for example, so you post a selfie of yourself looking dapper in your new suit. Or maybe you’ve gone travelling with friends and decide to take a selfie of you and your friends at the hotel you’ve just arrived at, showing your family at home where you are and that you’re okay. Arguably, it’s an interesting, more engaging way of keeping everyone updated.

We’re presented with a range of filtering and editing options when we take spontaneous photographs with our smartphone. One can tailor the selfie to look exactly how one would like before it’s posted and shared with everyone. Instagram’s filtering options give selfie takers the opportunity to experiment with different looks, hair styles and outfits, almost like a personal work of art. Facebook have now introduced filtering options to compete with Instagram’s wide range.

Are we Narcissists or Lovers of Life?

Inevitably, the “selfie” tag raises conflicting opinions. Dr. Jessery Hibbard, a specialist Clinical Psychologist for example, warns that posting selfies may “lead to cyber bullying and issues with self-confidence”. Others are concerned that the “selfie mania” we are subject to has caused us to become self-obsessed Narcissists.

James Poulus, a writer for the US Daily Beast magazine, argues that the selfie trend is positive and proactive. He declares that “selfies deserve our forgiveness” and “our support”. Rather than turning us in to Narcissists, he states that taking selfies is “an exercise in the personal artist’s craft.”  Poulus thoughtfully predicts that “our selfies will come to reflect what they so often already contain: the simple joy of being alive.”

The development of the selfie as a viral trend on social networking sites has inevitably grabbed the attention of our society. It’s now become a familiar, frequently used word of the English language, making it increasingly difficult to ignore, and no doubt giving it its Word of the Year title.

Do you think that “selfie” belongs in our dictionary? Let us know what you think of this year’s Word of the Year over on Google+.