This summer, we argued for the end of the selfie, the unavoidable presence in our everyday lives that is worshipped by some and barely understood by others.
As you well know by now, our warning call was never heeded, and we now sit in the midst of a selfie crisis the likes of what we’ve never seen before.
Selfies are a cultural phenomenon that has slowly come to dominate the social conversation. It used to be you either used a mirror or spent a lot of time deleting and retaking pictures, making sure they were perfect before they went on MySpace. Then, the front-facing camera came along and revolutionized the selfie game.
It’s no secret why selfies are popular: People love attention, people like to look attractive, and people like looking at attractive people. These factors have all combined to contribute to the success of the seflie. However, it doesn’t explain why it took so long for the phenomenon to become a hot topic.
I wanted to figure out why this was the case.
First, let’s take a brief look at the history of the selfie. According to the BBC, the word appeared for the first time ever back in 2002, when a man snapped a picture of facial injuries he had suffered after falling down drunk and posted them to an Australian forum.
From there, it was used sporadically on photo-sharing websites until the advent of the Hashtag Revolution, which accompanied Twitter and Instagram, but according to this Google Trends Chart, it didn’t begin to get much interest online until 2013:
This is not to suggest that selfies weren’t popular before then. As a recent college graduate, I was surprised to see that selfies were seemingly such a recent phenomenon, as I remember the term being used fairly regularly for the past few years.
Snapchat, one of the largest catalysts for the seflie explosion, caught on in the fall of 2012, and there was a certain point where you couldn’t be on campus without seeing a girl taking a picture of herself while walking. However, as is the case with most trends, what was popular among a smaller demographic soon expanded into the mainstream.
The general rule of thumb is that once The New York Times runs a story on a trend, it’s well on its way to becoming mainstream, and once it ends up on the local news, it has officially run its course.
Thanks to an essentially useless New York Times search function, I can’t tell you if the paper reported on it earlier than August 2013, when it officially became a word mere days after the Miley Cyrus Incident. Even though "selfie" was declared Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries a few months later, I’d argue that "twerking" was the social zeitgeist of 2013.
Because it was overshadowed at the time, "selfie" never received any proper attention from local news. That all changed at this year’s Oscars, when Ellen Degeneres (Bradley Cooper) took the Samsung™ Most Retweeted™ Selfie of All Time™:
I would argue that night, March 2, 2014, marked the peak of the Selfie Era. From that day forth, selfies became ubiquitous. There’s no concrete way to track the impact on pop culture, but as someone who spends most of his time online, I can confidently say that selfies have become bigger than ever before.
As they've become more prevalent, we’ve begun to see the dark side of selfies, from a broken statue to bros breaking into Sea World and the smartest bank robber of all them being arrested after taking a picture with a gun in his hand. One college even announced it was going to attempt to make the ugliest jersey in the history of sports, one covered entirely in selfies.
Thankfully, it's not all bad.
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve posted stories and videos concerning a runner taking selfies during a race, a soccer player celebrating a goal by taking a picture of his face and a cancer charity that was able to raise $1 million dollars.
But perhaps my favorite thing to come out of the recent craze is The Chainsmokers’ song “#Selfie,” which prominently features the ramblings of an airheaded girl and the tagline “Let me take a selfie.” With over 22 million views on YouTube since its release, its infectious beat and ridiculously over-the-top lyrics have made it an Internet sensation.
It’s a brilliant piece of satire that has managed to achieve mainstream success, much like Ylvis’ “What Does the Fox Say?".
It’s so well done, in fact, that a disturbingly high number of people have failed to realize that it’s a joke. Even better, before the video’s release, the group asked its fan to send in their selfies to be featured and they managed to get 2,000 people to submit pictures for the sole purpose of being mocked (although they didn't know it at the time).
While selfies may be on their way to becoming a mockery of themselves, there is no way they are ever going away.
It's true that it will be impossible for them to maintain their current level of pop culture saturation.
Now that parents have discovered what the term means, it’s only a matter of time before they start taking them. If the local news is the nail-in-the-coffin for a trend, then parents catching on is the end of its universe.
But it's not like people are going to stop taking pictures of themselves altogether. Vanity will never go away.
People live for the likes and comments about how great they look.
There are people who make money on Instagram because they can point a phone at themselves and hit a button. They're too big of a source of enjoyment for too many people to ever totally fade into the background.
However, this selfie craze is unsustainable, just like planking, neknomination and countless other trends. It's only a matter of time before people get tired of hearing the word "selfie" every five minutes. I say we just get it over with and move on to something else.
Selfies have peaked. Let's find something else to beat to death.
Top Photo Courtesy: Tumblr