Selfie, selfies and self-obsession

Last week Oxford Dictionaries named „selfie” as the word of the year 2013 after revealing that its usage has increased by 17,000 % over the last 12 months. Incredible as it may seem, the popularity of the word signifies an increasing phenomenon of self-centred and self-obsessed generation.

Selfie is defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”. Its first use is dated back to 2002 when an Australian student took a photo of himself when he fell over and cut open his lip while being drunk and then placed the photo on a forum saying “…sorry about the focus, it was a selfie”. The word originates form “self-portrait” and the -ie ending is typical of the Australian slang , with other examples such as “barbie” for barbecue, “surfie” for surfer  or “sickie” for sick day off from work. Popularity of “selfie” clearly shows the impact of social media on every-day language use and highlights how language can evolve through technology.


   On selfie and selfies                                                                                   (Photo by D. Pawlak)

From a technical point of view “selfie” appears to me as a rather dull phenomenon. As a former photographer (still quite active in this field though), I find selfies very disturbing. Usually self-portraits taken with a phone or webcam are anything but correct, revealing all possible defects from lack of focus and noise, through wrong composition to distorted shapes due to wide angle and wrong perspective. Not to mention the message that a selfie often tells about its author.

The growing popularity of selfies on social media shows the victory of self-centred generation communicating about its own needs, its own achievements and its own experiences. The time will show if the linguistic victory of the word will add up to this common self-obsession.

Dorota helps businesses and individuals to communicate successfully across cultures in the online world. She is a qualified translator and an entrepreneur supporting other self-employed professionals on their path toward building a more successful business.

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