Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Business

'Selfies,' much-maligned self-portraits, change communication

College student Emma Strub has been known to take pictures of herself 15 to 20 times a day.

Alone or with friends, smiling or making a goofy face. She shares most on photo-messaging app Snapchat, posting others to Instagram, Twitter or tumblr.

She, like so many of her peers, is a master of the smartphone self-portrait — the selfie.

While the selfie is as ancient as MySpace, the snapshots are surging across social media platforms. On Instagram, there are more than 36 million photos tagged selfie, 98 million tagged me and countless others without identifying hashtags. They're particularly popular among teens and tweens.

Depending on whom you ask, selfies are either the latest form of self-expression or narcissism on the rise, society in decline.

Yet the selfie's popularity suggests something beyond frivolous self-aggrandizing. It hints at a growing preference for online conversations that prioritize images over words.

"Our phones have front-facing cameras for a reason. It's to take pictures of ourselves," said Greg Swan, an avid selfie snapper and vice president at public relations firm Weber Shandwick. "...It's definitely a way of expressing yourself and putting yourself in a light that you can control."

Yet that focus on image online, especially among young teens, has some worried about a self-absorbed society. After all, research from Harvard University showed that social media users get a bigger neurochemical buzz from sharing information about themselves than sharing information about others.

While there are plenty of pictures posted with the goal of getting "likes" for a cute outfit or new hairdo, experts say the onslaught of selfies is changing the way we communicate. Why text "I'm happy" when you could post a picture of your smiling face?

"It's a fun way to talk," said Kelly McCloskey, 13, a regular Snapchat user. "It's just kind of cooler because you get what they're saying more."

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