About the worldwide ‘selfie’ phenomenon

By Anne Collier

A nice switch from that other Guardian piece I blogged about was one about the Selfiecity Project. Have you heard of it? It was a project about a global phenomenon reinforced by Oxford Dictionaries declaring “selfie” the Word of the Year late last year (not to mention President Obama’s selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service).

Selfiecity was a project at City University of New York that used human judgment and Gnip, a photo analysis tool, to study what more than 600,000 selfies (you probably know they’re digital self-portraits taken with phones) from central New York City, Bangkok, Moscow, Sao Paolo and Berlin tell us about ourselves. One of the researchers’ most interesting discoveries ran exactly counter to all the hype – that “only 3-5% of all photos the team analyzed could be categorized as a selfie,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

But back to The Guardian for some other really interesting findings about all of us (if five global cities represent us): “The results show that selfie aficionados in Bangkok skew younger than those in, say, Berlin. People in Moscow smile far less than their happier, more expressive counterparts in Sao Paulo. And, in all cities analyzed, selfie-takers are overwhelmingly female, though [lead researcher Lev] Manovich notes the balance is more equal in the US in general.

“But no matter where the photo is taken,” The Guardian continues, “the data that selfies actually may not be as much of our collective digital culture as we realize and internet users aren’t as narcissistic as we might like to believe.” I like to believe (and it’s my experience of them too) that selfies are a phenomenon because they’re fun – even if some selfie-takers smile a little less than others. It’s the “say ‘cheese'” part that’s cultural.