#selfie: A Culture Obsessed with Social Media

The Obama girls take a selfie.

The Obama girls take them, Justin Bieber takes them, The Pope takes them, just about everyone takes them: selfies. It seems as if the selfie has taken over social media, there’s even a song about taking selfies. According to recent findings from the Pew Research Centre, teenagers in America are sharing more information than ever about themselves on social media. Of those studied, 91% post photos of themselves online – up from 79% in 2006. The selfie has become a big part of the American culture. In fact, the selfie has become such a big part that even phone companies began making products with front facing cameras, for the purpose of taking selfies. The question now is why? Why are we so obsessed with taking pictures of ourselves, whether in a group or alone?

Part of the answer is that taking a photo of yourself and posting it to social media is a way to prove that you were somewhere or did something; and another part is that it is a way to communicate. Instead of having to say where you are or what you are doing, you can just take a picture of yourself wherever you are, doing whatever you are doing.

One type of selfie in particular has become a popular way to communicate with others: the Snapchat selfie. Snapchat allows you to send a picture to friends and write text on it as well, so you could have a minimally verbal conversation with someone. This type of communication, through social media, has increased along with parents’ ideas about how anti-social the young people of today have become. However, we are being social, just not int he ways that most older people were used to when they were young. Personally, I prefer to see friends in person, and I feel most other young people do, too. However, in an increasingly busy and restricted world, it isn’t always easy to get together with friends in person. In Danah Boyd’s book “It’s Complicated“, she talks about the decreased freedom that young people have: “Today’s teenagers have less freedom to wander than any previous generation.17 Many middle- class teenagers once grew up with the option to “do whatever you please, but be home by dark.” While race, socioeconomic class, and urban and suburban localities shaped particular dynamics of childhood, walking or bicycling to school was ordinary, and gathering with friends in public or commercial places—parks, malls, diners, parking lots, and so on—was commonplace. Until fears about “latchkey kids” emerged in the 1980s, it was normal for children, tweens, and teenagers to be alone. It was also common for youth in their preteen and early teenage years to take care of younger siblings and to earn their own money through paper routes, babysitting, and odd jobs before they could find work in more formal settings. Sneaking out of the house at night was not sanctioned, but it wasn’t rare either”. Because young people today are so busy trying to do as many extracurriculars as possible to make their resumes seem more appealing to increasingly competitive schools, there is hardly time to meet up with friends. On top of this add hobbies, geographical restrictions, parental restrictions, homework, and jobs, and it’s amazing there is even time to socialize online.

However, the idea of the selfie also goes beyond proof and communication; the selfie is a way to get attention, and as James Franco put it, “attention is power”. Whether you gain attention because you posted a silly picture, a sexual picture, or just because you are a celebrity, that attention becomes power. The more followers and likes you have, the more influence you hold over others. For example, if someone is seen as fashionable and has a lot of followers, the clothes they wear are more likely to be copied by others, over someone who is less well known.

This influence and power isn’t only used by individuals, but in many cases can be used by certain groups to relay a message to others. For example, during riots, war, protests, etc., people turn to social media to show the rest of the world what is happening where they are. Selfies like the one below take people who normally recieve little attention, and therefore have little power, and bring them to the foreground where they can receive the attention and power they are seeking.

If the event shown in the picture is something that people find wrong, then they will most likely rally behind whichever side they support. This gain of supporters provides power to the group facing that certain event. These types of pictures will sometimes influence others to share that picture or news of what is happening. When a photo or news of these types of events reaches people with even more influence, such as celebrities and popular social media personalities, the influence grows, and so does the power.

All in all, the selfie and social media itself is a way for young people to connect with others in an increasingly busy world. Also, no matter if you are taking a picture by yourself, with others, or during a major event, you are sharing your experiences with the rest of the world. The more your selfie is shared or liked, or the more followers you have, the more attention you gain; and when you gain more attention, you begin to have more influence over other people. This influence can be positive or negative, but either way, you are creating an impact on others that you might not otherwise have.

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4 thoughts on “#selfie: A Culture Obsessed with Social Media

  1. The new types and expressions of culture that have been created by social media are fascinating. I think many people tend to think that people are spending less time with each other because of the invention and increased use of social media, but as you pointed out, this is not necessarily true. Using anthropology to look at something as commonplace and even silly as selfies is really important, and I think your piece clearly demonstrates that. Everything we do is cultural act, a cultural performance, and even when it seems like it isn’t really something that matters, it does. Looking at things like selfies, hashtags, social media used, and even usernames are really important to understanding human culture and meaning making. I really enjoyed this piece!

  2. Reblogged this on a political idealist. and commented:
    Elena just took the words out of my mouth. We live in a society that is obsessed with physical appearance. We’re all guilty of this. We all have taken pictures of ourselves, sometimes for attention, or just to set up a profile, whatever the reason is. But there are some poeple who just overdo it. Every where I go out, I constantly see people taking pictures of themselves.
    I could see how this is anthropology-related, but to explain how selfies have an impact on human culture makes no sense to me, because honestly, I don’t see anything significant about this except that people are evolving with cold, attention-seeking personalities.

  3. I found this post very relatable to anthropology, in the way you related the real world of selfies in this generation in the anthropological aspect.
    Its interesting how our generation creates power though social media. Many people don’t even know each other in person, but it’s like they have know each other forever through social media. Also the fact that so many people in the world create the power with some many followers that the person itself might not even know they have that power. It can create powers internationally, and like this posts saids that it starts trends.

    Its interesting to me how people may maintain a relationship in cyberspace, but it so difficult to live in the real world.

  4. I liked how you related selfies and more specifically Snap Chat to Anthropology. It is true how today people communicate mostly through text and other social medias such as Snap Chat. Like you said it is how we keep in touch with our peers and even better we can keep in touch with people we do not see often because of different geographical locations. We can use apps like Snap Chat, Facebook, Instagram Twitter and so on to see what people are doing that we had a relationship with once but that connection has petered out. We can keep up with old friends almost directly, instead of indirectly through gossip or talk about that person with someone else. The real life social aspect of our parents day has been replaced with a virtual social aspect in our generations day. We are still hanging out with our friends, just in a new non conventional setting.

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