This month, the Oxford Dictonaries announced ‘selfie’ as their word of the year, noting that usage had increased 17,000% since January. A ‘selfie,’ as you know, is a photographic self-portrait, usually shared over social media, usually shot on a mobile phone (here’s a handy infographic). One poll in the UK found that 30 percent of ALL photos taken by 18- to 24-year-olds were selfies. And, of course, there’s already an anti-selfie movement.
So, what does this have to do with cultural management? Well, for one, it’s a cultural phenomenon. A selfie is an expressive act. And expressive acts are our business.
Alicia Eler in Hyperalleric suggests that selfies are both the call and echo of the social self. Says she:
The Selfie Theory posits that as we increasingly live in public, our selfies are our networked identities, connected, refracted, and devoid of context — and those who see us are our mirrors, reflecting how we look back to ourselves, and out to the internet world….Selfies are about connecting with others through mirroring processes, not about being alone in front of a static one-way mirror.
A counterpart to the self-focused selfie is the other-focused stew of little life details that simmers in our social networks, what Leisa Reichelt described as ambient intimacy. Through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat, we experience a river of routine and personal tidbits from our social network – what they’re eating, who they’re dating, where they’re standing, what they’re seeing. Some have disdain for this media minutia, but Reichelt finds it rather useful:
There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like.
The selfie and ambient intimacy are two data points in a larger shift. How we know ourselves. How we share ourselves. How we know others. And how we connect the dots between those things.
If that’s not the stuff of cultural endeavor, it seems like it ought to be.