Selfie Day: birth and death of a cultural phenomenon

While for much of the world June 21st is the day on which the beginning of summer is celebrated, for many others the same date is useful to celebrate the World Selfie Day. …

Selfie Day: birth and death of a cultural phenomenon

While for much of the world June 21st is the day on which the beginning of summer is celebrated, for many others the same date is useful to celebrate the World Selfie Day. What was previously called a self-timer and which then, thanks to the advent of smartphones, became a real mass phenomenon if not a distinctive brand, something that managed to change not only the way of taking photos, but also the concept of collecting memories, to the point of also affecting the idea of ​​division.

History of the selfie: the origins

If you search for the word “selfie” on the Treccani Encyclopedia website, the first explanation of the lemma that comes to mind is the one that reads: “photographic self-portrait”. Two simple words which, however, unequivocally manage to explain the nature of the selfie, which consists of nothing other than taking a photo of yourself. A form of self-celebration, but also of vanity, useful for stopping a moment in one’s life and appearance. If you stick with this explanation of the selfie, it might come as a surprise that the first selfie ever taken was taken long before cell phones were invented. As we read on The Economic Times the first ”self-portrait” it was taken in the now very distant 1839. The shot was taken by Robert Cornelius, an amateur chemist with a passion for photography who lived in Philadelphia.

The man took an image – in black and white, of course – of himself in the back of the chandelier shop he ran with his family. On Medium, however, we read about how in 1914 what we could define as the first “mirror selfie” was taken, representing a character who was anything but anonymous. The shot, in fact, represents Anastasia Nikolaevna, the youngest daughter of the Tsar of Russia and was made using a Kodak Brownie. In 1966 the shot taken by was shared Buzz Aldrin during the Gemini 12 mission, representing the very first self-portrait taken in space.

The birth of the term and the diffusion of the phenomenon

All these examples can be considered “ancestors” of selfies, simple self-portraits taken with the means of the time. To talk about real selfies we have to wait until 2002 as he writes ABC Science. On September 13, 2002, an Australian user posted on a scientific forum ABC Science (which is part of ABC News) a post in which the term appears for the first time. In the post, a boy explains that he fell during a friend’s birthday party and hit his lip on some steps.

At the end of the comment, the boy writes: “Sorry for the focus, it was a selfie“. And to the words he adds an image of himself, taken independently. Gradually the term began to circulate online, also thanks to the introduction, in 2003, of the first cell phone models that had a front camera and therefore allowed people to frame and see what they would take. Then in 2011, with the spread of Instagram, the first social media entirely dedicated to images, the word selfie becomes a hashtag. The first post to use it is by user Jennifer Lee which you can see below:

The post, which is still on Instagram, continues to collect comments that applaud Jennifer Lee for having made history, being the first to use a hashtag which, to date, checking Instagram, has 23,226,120 posts if you search for #selfies and more than 270 million if you search for #selfie. The success of Instagram has meant that selfies have become part of the conversation, to the point that on the Treccani website the shot is not defined just as a self-portrait, as was said at the beginning of the paragraph, but as a self-portrait “generally done with a smartphone or webcam and then shared on social networking sites.” As you read above The Culture Tripthis particular type of self-portrait then becomes a phenomenon recognized by culture when, in 2013, the lemma was included in the Oxford English Dictionary and elected Word of the yearword of the year.

Selfies, shares and death

As selfies become part of everyday life – for young people, but not only – and social media has grown in importance, the need to show and share has risen exponentially. Nowadays we are now used to the idea of ​​sharing everything: social media is full of more or less famous people who have built their fame on the public’s voyeuristic curiosity, on the ability to show many aspects of their lives. In 2013/2014, at the beginning of the explosion of the phenomenon, sharing was still something new, something that made you feel above others. This has caused many users, looking for the unique selfie they ended up pushing the limits just to get the perfect shot. This he did, as reported by the CNNthat the search for the self-timer led to death.

From 2014 to 2016, the date of the first reports on the topic, 49 people lost their lives in selfie-related accidents. More than a quarter of these deaths were among people aged 21 and over, and 75 percent were male. This is a trend that did not stop in the first years of diffusion of these shots: the last case in chronological order that can be considered a death by selfie occurred on June 4, 2024, in Mexico. As we read on the InfoBae website, a woman died in Nopala de Villagràn, Hidalgo, after getting too close to the steam train known as La Emperatriz. The woman wanted to take a selfie with the locomotive behind her, but she got too close to the point that her head was hit by a piston, causing her almost immediate death.

The most famous selfies

Since selfies, for a long time, have been a mass phenomenon but also a means of telling one’s story, it is not strange to imagine that they have also been used in the world of entertainment and information. On the one hand, for fans of celebrities and famous people, selfies have made it much easier to take a souvenir photo with your favorite star. Even today, just watch the live broadcast of any red carpet, such as that of the Venice Film Festival, to see how people are always with their phones in hand, ready to take a selfie with the actor or actress. on duty. Indeed, often many people do not take a photo to remember the moment in which they met a particularly loved actor, but only to collect shots, as if their value were measured by the number of shots taken even with semi-unknown people.

This, however, opens up a different discussion, namely the need to “pretend” to always have something to share in order to feel part of the online community which then leads to what is now known as FOMOan acronym that stands for Fear of Missing Out, lthat is, fear of feeling cut off from digital life. Beyond fans, however, selfies have also been used by prominent figures. As we read on The Guardian, for example, too Barack Obama he did not shy away from “fashion”. But the most famous selfie remains the one taken in 2014 by Ellen Degeneres during the 86th edition of the Oscar Awards. The then presenter of the Academy Awards ceremony went down to the audience among guests and nominees and took a selfie with many stars, including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper and Meryl Streep. The selfie became a record selfie with two million retweets in less than two minutes, as reported Vanity Fair.

Has the end come?

Today we have to ask ourselves whether the age of selfies is over. Instagram, as we know, is facing a very dark period, also feeling the competition from Tik Tok, which prefers videos to static images. Precisely the success of the Chinese social network led Instagram to insert reels, precisely to keep up, ensuring that the platform “pushed” video content more than simple photos. Furthermore, there has been a generational change and now those who are part of the so-called Generation Z are “holding the reins” of social media. It is precisely the latter who have begun to consider “cringe” and therefore embarrassing and disturbing, the use of simple self-portraits. On the one hand, as we read on the BBCthe selfie culture is being put under attack by institutions and sites that want greater respect, therefore banning images within certain places.

For example, anyone who has traveled to Paris in recent years will know that taking photos inside a lot is prohibited instagrammable like the library Shakespeare & Co. On the other hand, the importance of sharing on social media and the status quo that derives from it has meant that users have gradually stopped taking improvised selfies, designed to freeze a moment, concentrating on increasingly glossy, constructed photos, which today extensive use of filters, photographic manipulation and, last but not least, artificial intelligence. Selfies, in a certain sense, were born to show the truth of the moment: today we live in an era in which, at least on social media, nothing of what you see is true.

This, combined with the spread of short videos and the concept of Gen Z who consider the act of taking a self-portrait a gesture to boomers thus has come the decline of a phenomenon which, however, must be recognized as having the ability to dictate the pace of the new millennium, to the point of having a world day dedicated precisely to it.