Selfie, history and influence on society

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Selfie is a not-so-new but popular activity in social networking culture. It is fun taking a picture of yourself with your friend, family, child or dog.

However, it not always harmless.

I came across a few isolated reports on selfie related issues while going through the morning news a day ago. This led to today’s post on a brief background and social influence of selfie.



Oxford Dictionary defines selfie as a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media. A self-taken photograph by a digital camera can also be categorized as a selfie. However, either the camera is hand-held or a selfie stick is used for a wide-angle view. Oxford Dictionary has named selfie the word of the year in November 2013.

Self-portrait has been common since early days of photography and painting.

Possibly Parmigianino had painted the earliest selfie back in 1523 when he had created “Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror”. The artist often acted as his or her own model for experimentation.

Today we are going to focus on selfie by camera or smartphones.

Before smartphone

Robert Cornelius had created a daguerreotype of himself in 1839. He was considered the pioneer in American photography and produced one of the first photographs of a person.585px-RobertCornelius

Cornelius had removed the lens cap and run into the frame, waiting for a minute before covering up the lens again. On the back of the photograph created, he had recorded, “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.”

The Kodak brownie box

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The brownie box was created in 1900. One of the earliest self-photographs using this device was that of a grim-faced Edwardian woman in her patterned dress who had taken her picture using a mirror. Another noteworthy selfie was of Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. At the age of 13, she was one of the first teenagers to take her own picture using a mirror to send to a friend in 1914. She wrote to her friend, “I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling.”

Later cameras

Instant cameras were introduced in the 1970s, that helped self-portraiture gain popularity among amateurs who could now learn photography with ease and immediate result.

A natural transition to digital cameras from film cameras took selfie process to a new level.

Who coined the term selfie

The word ‘selfie’ was coined in 2002, by Nathan Hope after a little accident at a friend’s birthday party. On 13 September, at 2:55 pm, he had posted in Dr. Karl Self-Serve Science Forum (online) on the ABC

“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer (sic) and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip.”

With a self-photograph showing the stitches in his lower lip, Hope had continued,

“And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

Other related terms

The term usies have been used in January 2014, when Business Insider published a story with the photograph of Pope Francis. The Pope was with visitors in the Vatican when this selfie was shot. They used the same term to describe a selfie taken of celebrity couple Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.

The term groufie was introduced during the launch of Ascend P7 smartphone in 2014. This term has been trademarked by Chinese phone manufacturer Huawei Technologies in China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S. Huawei defines the groufie as a panoramic selfie involving multiple subjects, as well as background scenery, captured using the front facing, 8-megapixel camera and panorama capabilities of its phones.

Another term for a group selfie is wefie, originally trademarked by Samsung in the U.S. to promote the wide-angle lens of its NX series of cameras.

Modern day selfie tools

The selfie smartphoneSonyEricsson_Z1010

The Sony Ericsson Z1010 mobile phone, released in late 2003, introduced the concept of a front-facing camera. The Z1010’s front-facing camera had a sensor for selfies and video calls.

The selfie stickmonopod-769001_640

Selfie sticks are often used when taking a group selfie as that allows a wider, more panoramic image capture.

For detailed information click here.

Appearance in social media

In the early 2000s, before Facebook dominated the social media, MySpace boasted of self-taken photographs. However, between 2006 and 2009, Facebook became more popular than MySpace. Writer Kate Losse stated that new Facebook users found MySpace pictures

“An amateurish, flash-blinded self-portrait, often taken in front of a bathroom mirror.”

Flickr, Instagram, and Snapchat have featured many selfies from 2009. Read this for further information.

Increase in popularity

The term selfie was used by Flickr in 2004, but it became more popular in 2012 with the help of hashtags on social media. Ellen Degeneres had posted the most retweeted selfie of all time at the 2014 Oscar’s and helped the term receive attention in the news.

Is selfie good?

Good question. There are definitely a few positive influences of the selfie on the society. A few people have actually taken the concept and used it in a creative and practical way. Let us look into such instances.


Since early 2003, Alberto Frigo has been photographing everything his right hand touched. This Italian media artist has discussed his life-long project of self-photography with the online newspaper Metro in this interview.

Camera selfie

A worthy mention is that of camera selfies by Jurgen Novotny, a photographer and engineer. He has acquired of self-portraits of vintage cameras as a look back into their glorious times.

Celebration of regular people

“The cult of the selfie celebrates regular people,”

says Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., faculty director of the media psychology program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.

“There are many more photographs available now of real people than models.”

People are empowered by selfies to control their images online. Not just celebrities but regular people can develop their own identity.

For further read please refer to this article by Melissa Walker

Selfies with your family, a long-lost friend, your favorite aunt, your newborn child, your dog or maybe your new house, are great to share with people you cannot reach physically. They help reminisce about important events or just the good old days.

Is selfie harmful?

Often, selfie is criticized as an outlet for narcissistic behavior. This is because some selfie posts in social media have caused embarrassment for the other person featured in the photograph.


A Rajasthani woman was recently raped by her husband and his two nephews who had then tattooed on her forehead and hands with slurs. All because she had failed to pay a dowry of 51,000 rupees. Soumya Gurjar, a member of the Rajasthan Women’s Commission had to resign after facing a flak from the social media and political groups. She had posted a selfie with the victim that went viral on Whatsapp. For further details check here. When questioned, Ms. Gurjar said that the victim was willing and interested in the photography process! Tell me, friends, shouldn’t a well-educated WC member know better? She could have explained the process to her instead of taking and posting the selfie in social media. Was it necessary to make the photograph accessible?


Ex-lovers post explicit photographs to humiliate their former love, often termed as revenge porn. Some have circulated explicit contents across social media as an act of vengeance. Is this not harmful? Does a broken relationship not deserve privacy? A victim can share abuse to seek help or support (privacy and security are also in question here). However, the abuser sharing such information is much more dangerous.

Cry for help?

Some people tirelessly post series of selfies on social media.

Psychologists have analyzed this behaviour as narcissistic. However, this article says that the correlation is very small.

They also suggest that some people like to post their own photographs for a mass approval or out of loneliness. Studies link social media overuse and selfie overload
with low self-esteem and narcissism.

Selfie posting can increase your self-esteem, build a larger base of friends and give you a respite from loneliness. However, you must ask yourself this question at least once a month,

“Are they my real friends?Am I too much dependent on their opinions?”


Self-objectification of women has become an issue almost at par with men objectifying women. Skimpy attire, provocative poses and explicit pictures of self, often have been featured in social media. Emma Barnett from The Telegraph pointed out in this article that often, she noticed some pictures of friends wearing less than they sport in life. She questions the honesty of such selfies in this article.

Lindsay Kite, Ph.D., discusses empowerment, body positivity, objectification, and the internet with Meghan Murphy here.

Reading through the links will show you that objectification and seeking other’s approval is not just an issue with men. Sometimes, women think that sharing their nude pictures show their confidence in self. Does it really do so or pose a threat to your own privacy and security?

Celebrity selfie

Selfies by celebrities posted for their followers on social media, provocative or otherwise interesting, are the subject of regular press coverage.

Actors and selfie

Actor and avid selfie poster James Franco defended himself for sharing frequent self-portrait on his Instagram page. He wrote in The New York Times. Franco suggested that they should not be seen as an egocentric act, but instead, a journalistic moment as it cultivates a

“Visual culture, the selfie quickly and easily shows, not tells, how you’re feeling, where you are, what you’re doing”,

much like a photojournalist image.

He is not wrong you see if you are clear about what you do.

Politicians and selfie

PM Narendra Modi’s harmless selfie taken after voting in Gandhinagar on Twitter became a major trending item on the micro-blogging platform. In July 2014, the Swiss government became the first to take and post a picture of an entire national government. The picture was taken by Alain Berset, one of the seven members of the government.

However, the public did not consider the incident with President Barack Obama so benign. The US President made news headlines by taking a selfie with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron during Nelson Mandela’s memorial celebration at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium. British political columnist Iain Martin critiqued the behavior as

“Clowning around like muppets.”

The First Lady Michelle Obama sitting next to them did not seem to find this amusing. The photographer at the celebration, Roberto Schmidt said that it was taken as

“A jovial, celebratory portion of the service.”

See here for a full account.

Injury and death

People attribute injury and death selfie these days. A list of such incidents has been provided in Wikipedia. If you read through you will realize it is quite similar to the old rule of not talking on mobile phone while driving.

A sad compilation is here.

Reports suggest that as of February 2016, India has recorded more selfie-related deaths than any other country. Mumbai has set no-selfie zones and authorities have issued warnings for public against taking unnecessary risks.

Time to think

Dear readers, please think about what we shared today. Selfie, like any other hype, has positive (read fun) and negative (can be fatal) sides. We have no right to judge people who share their own photographs, with or without friends and loved ones in the social media to celebrate life. However, an abusive or insensitive material should be condemned. To prevent any threat to another person’s privacy or security, some awareness is necessary.

Do share your thoughts in the comment section. You can talk about instances that have had a positive or negative impact on lives of people you know. We can create another post based on your experience.

I hope to see you soon.

So what say you?