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Selfie: Short History and Background

Updated on January 7, 2017

It is undeniably true that we cannot stop progress, and when technology develops, the society also develops. Marshall McLuhan theorized Technological Determinism, which states that media technology shapes how we, as individuals in a society think, feel, act, and how society operates as we move from one technological age to another. Nowadays, technological advances and their rapid and wide applications are having a significant impact on a nation’s traditional skills and ways of life. Some argue that such impact is so extraordinary that it would make conventional skills and life styles obsolete. However, technology would continue to thrive by providing alternatives to modern ways of life, and innovative ideas for modern technologies, and “selfie” is a product of this shifting dynamic and it is symbolic of our new, empowered citizenry.

Today, almost everyone has access to smartphones and has the ability to share their “selfies” with the global audience. In the past, self-portraits were reserved for royalty and those in power, but today, the common people pictured in these selfies are the people-in-power. Every selfie taken, regardless of how trivial it may seem, is a proud declaration of our connected generation's newfound ability to communicate in a free and frictionless manner.

It is also tempting to underestimate the importance of the selfie because of the throwaway manner in which it is used. But the selfie's disposable nature is significant because it represents a society in which the value of information is no longer determined by its permanence, but by its transience. In the past, the world's knowledge was preserved in leather-bound books, but today it is spurted-out in the form of 140-character tweets that flow like rivers of rainwater towards an ocean of infinite knowledge. We live in a world where art and wisdom are no longer to be found only in museums and books, but within the fabric of our ever-expanding collective consciousness - a consciousness increasingly comprised of transient digital content like selfies.

Selfie is the new trend

In the whole world, selfie became a hot cultural phenomenon where many people, mostly teenagers, are posting their photos on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other sites without hesitation. Last March, two Philippine Cities-Makati City and Pasig City share the distinction of being the “selfie” capital of the world, with at least 258 selfie-takers per 100,000 people, according to TIME Magazine report. It is said that the two cities produce “more selfies per capita than any other city in the world” based on TIME’s analysis of mapped Instagram data. More Philippine cities were also included in the TIME list’s top 100. The so-called summer capital Baguio City came in at 16th, Quezon City at 59th and Iloilo at 72nd.

But the issue of selfie is not only for the teenagers who are very fond of this activity. Even the government is taking part on it. An “Anti-selfie Bill” (also known as House Bill 4807), is in the Philippines Congress right now–and is causing outrage and chilling effects to media and citizen journalism. This is an ongoing issue not only to the people taking selfies, but more importantly on the side of the netizens and communication students.

But how aware are young children, or even teens, about the impression that their selfies leave? Do they appreciate that with their likenesses, they are often sending strong visual messages — some even suggestive — that they might not want conveyed?

Short history of selfie

A selfie is defined as a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. But how did the concept of selfie started? Can you imagine the kings and queens of previous centuries to have taken a photographic selfie of themselves? Is it even possible?

The history of selfie goes back to 1893 when Robert Cornelius, an American pioneer in photography, produced a daguerreotype of himself which is also one of the first photographs of a person. Because the process was slow he was able to uncover the lens, run into the shot for a minute or more, and then replace the lens cap. He recorded on the back "The first light Picture ever taken. 1893.”

When portable Kodak brownie box camera debuted in 1900, it led to a photographic self-portraiture, becoming a more widespread technique. The method was usually by mirror and stabilizing the camera either on a nearby object or on a tripod while framing via a viewfinder at the top of the box. Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, at the age of 13, was one of the first teenagers to take her own picture using a mirror to send to a friend in 1914. In the letter that accompanied the photograph, she wrote, "I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling.”

Photographic self-portraiture flourished in the 1970s when affordable instant cameras birthed a new medium of self-expression, capturing uncharacteristically personal insight into otherwise conservative individuals and allowing amateurs to learn photography with immediate results. This practice transitioned naturally across to digital cameras as they supplanted film cameras around the turn of the millennium.

Selfie today

The art of selfie is one that lots of people have practiced and perfected in recent years. As of press time, more than 31 million Instagram photos have been hashtagged #selfie, and according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, 91 percent of teens have posted a photo of themselves online. Even though Selfies seem to be the latest fad for people to do, internet users do not realize the dangers that they are putting themselves and others they love into these dangers that the selfie presents are real and the selfie danger does not go away over night when the pictures are removed. Instead, the dangers can remain for a long period of time, depending on who has the pictures and how many times they have shared the pictures to the Internet for others to see.

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