Snapshots of the self-obsessed?

NEW YORK — In these hyper-connected, over-shared times dwell two kinds of people: those preoccupied with taking and uploading photos of themselves and those who have never heard of the selfie.

The raunchy, goofy, poignant, sexy or drunken self-portrait has been a common sight since phone camera met social media. Now, nearly a decade since the arm-extended or in-the-mirror photos became a mainstay of MySpace — duck face or otherwise — selfies are a pastime across generations and cultures.

Justin Bieber puts up plenty with his shirt off and Rihanna poses for sultry snaps, but a beaming Hillary Clinton recently took a turn with daughter Chelsea, who tweeted their happy first attempt with the hashtag #ProudDaughter.

Two other famous daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama, selfied at Dad’s second inauguration, pulling faces in front of a smartphone. And Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide earned a spot in the Selfie Hall of Fame with a striking, other-worldly shot, arms extended as reflected in his helmet outside the International Space Station last year.

“It just comes so naturally after a point,” said Elizabeth Zamora, a 24-year-old marketing account coordinator in Dallas who has taken hundreds of selfies since she got her first iPhone two years ago, with the front-facing camera that has become the selfie gold standard.

“You just take it and you don’t even realize it and then you’re sharing it with all your friends,” she said. “I try not to go crazy.”

If we’re not taking them, we’re certainly looking, regardless of whether we know what they’re called. We’re lurking on the selfies of our teens, enjoying the hijinx of co-workers and friends and mooning over celebrities, who have fast learned the marketing value — and scandalous dangers — of capturing their more intimate, unpolished selves.

The practice of freezing and sharing our thinnest slices of life has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term selfie as a possible addition. Time magazine included the selfie in its Top 10 buzzwords of 2012 (at No. 9) and New York magazine’s The Cut blog declared in April: “Ugly Is the New Pretty: How Unattractive Selfies Took Over the Internet.”

On Instagram alone, there’s #selfiesunday, along with related tags where millions of selfies land daily. More than 23 million photos have been uploaded to the app with the tag #selfie and about 70 million photos clog Instagram’s #me.

What are we to make of all this navel-gazing (sometimes literally)? Are selfies, by definition, culturally dangerous? Offensive? An indicator of moral decline?

Beverly Hills, Calif., psychiatrist Carole Lieberman sees narcissism with a capital N. “The rise of the selfie is a perfect metaphor for our increasingly narcissistic culture. We’re desperately crying out: Look at me!”

But Pamela Rutledge doesn’t see it that way. The director of the nonprofit Media Psychology Research Center, which explores how humans interact with technology, sees the selfie as democratizing the once-snooty practice of self-portraiture, a tradition that long predates Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

She sees some key differences between selfies and self-portraits of yore. Unlike painted portraiture, selfies are easily deletable. And “bad or funny is good in a way that wasn’t the case when people had to pay for film to be developed,” or for a professional painter, she said.

“Albrecht Durer’s self-portraiture is these incredible self-reflections and explorations of technique, and then when Rihanna snaps her picture it’s just self-aggrandizement, or it’s promotion, so you have a fairly interesting double standard based upon who’s taking the self-portrait,” said Rutledge, in Boston.

In selfies, we can be famous and in control of our own images and storylines. As for the young, the more authority figures — parents, teachers — dislike them and “declare them a sign of a self-obsessed, narcissistic generation, the more desirable they become,” she said.

There’s a sense of immediacy and temporariness. “Granted, little is really temporary on the Internet, but it is more that by definition. Transient, soon to be upstaged by the next one,” Rutledge said.

More in Local News

These little piggies stay home

Norman, who was spotted last week in Everett, is part of a trio kept as pets by the “pig whisperer.”

Cheering families welcome Kidd, Shoup after 6 months at sea

“I get back Daddy back today,” said one homemade sign at Naval Station Everett.

Stanwood man, 33, killed in crash near Marysville

Speed may have been a factor, the sheriff’s department said.

Street-legal ATVs approved for some roads near Sultan

Supporters foresee tourism benefits. Opponents are concerned about injury and pollution risks.

Jamie Copeland is a senior at Cedar Park Christian Schools’ Mountlake Terrace campus. She is a basketball player, ASB president, cheerleader and, of course, a Lion. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Cedar Park Christian senior stepping up to new challenges

Jamie Copeland’s academics include STEM studies, leadership, ASB activities, honor society.

Woman, 47, found dead in Marysville jail cell

She’d been in custody about four days after being arrested on warrants, police said.

County plans to sue to recoup costs from ballot drop-box law

A quarter-million dollars could be spent adding 19 ballot boxes in rural areas.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang is known for his people skills

The city’s top cop’s calm demeanor and holistic approach earns him the nickname “Yoda.”

Most Read