Friday, December 20, 2013

Here's looking at you me, kid

What to make of the fact that "selfie" has been declared the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries?

First of all, to stress that this doesn't imply some kind of value judgement or endorsement from the word nerds at OUP, despite what Marina Hyde appears to believe. On the contrary, it's been chosen based on objective research which indicates its usage exploded by 17,000% over the course of 2013 (for which Hyde's paper the Guardian may have been chiefly responsible...). Applying the standard criteria - that it should be the word "that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance" - the choice can't really be faulted. Naturally, the increased usage of the word has been fuelled by the increased popularity of the phenomenon itself - one which has seen Barack Obama, David Cameron and the Pope all get in on the act (Obama and Cameron at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela).

Of course, you can however ask what it says about a world in which "selfie" has gained such remarkable and rapid traction. It's hard to look past it being indicative of an increasingly (and depressingly) self-obsessed and narcissistic society and culture - one in which someone might think little of capturing a man threatening to leap off Brooklyn Bridge, with themselves in the foreground.

Selfies go hand-in-hand with the explosion of social media, and Facebook and Twitter in particular. Personally speaking, I've taken the odd selfie of myself and Jen on holiday over the years (admittedly smug, but defensible I think) but am bemused and irritated by some people's habit of posting selfies practically daily - what Jonathan Jones has called "inane photophilia". That said, in the eight months since he was born I've taken hundreds of pictures of Stan and uploaded many of them to the web - it could be argued that taking a photo of your son or daughter is itself an abstract form of selfie. If so, then I guess I'm guilty as charged.

No comments: