After being named Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries in 2013, the selfie is now grabbing even more of the social-media spotlight. Word comes today that academics have been busily studying the self-photograph that’s become all the rage of the smartphone-camera set. Which, of course, includes nearly every single one of us.
Wired magazine reports that a team of researchers, professors and computer whizzes thought it was worth their precious time to have a close look at selfies being shot in five different cities around the world, and then to analyze what those acts of photographic vanity say about us and our society.
First, the numbers:
As Wired points out, there are “more than 79 million photos on Instagram that fall under #selfie. This is not counting #selfies (7 million photos), #selfienation (1 million photos), #selfiesfordays (400,000 photos) or the countless number of photos with no hashtag at all.”
So many selfies to analyze, so little time. So Lev Manovich, a computer science professor at The Graduate Center, CUNY joined “data visualization whiz” Moritz Stefaner and a group of fellow researchers and historians. Together, they spent the past six months poring over Instagram selfies for for a new project they call Selfiecity, which plumbs the depths of this self-snapping phenom.
For obvious reasons, these photos are a psychological research goldmine, but there’s been little done in the way of objectively looking at the photos’ content to see how it might reflect the actual world we live in. Selfiecity looks at the trend through a window, not a microscope. Instead of zeroing in on a single narrow element, the Selfiecity project is broken down into a few broad areas: main findings, contextual essays and interactive data visualizations. “We wanted to look at this phenomena from different perspectives,” Manovich explains.
Selfiecity analyzes Instagram data for visual cues like head position, emotional expression, gender and age, in order to get a clearer picture of how (and how often) people actually take selfies in different cultures. “The idea was to confront the generalizations about selfies, which are not based on data, with actual data,” says Manovich. “We wanted to look at what the actual patterns are.”
The cities explored were New York City, Berlin, Bangkok, Moscow and Sao Paolo.
So what sort of things did they learn from all those selfies?
Though statistical analysis, the Selfiecity team discovered:
On average, women tend to take more selfies than men, particularly in Moscow where 80 percent of the selfies are from women. More interesting yet, is the fact that in older populations that trend reverses. After approximately age 40, men are more likely to take and post selfies on Instagram than women.
Women are more likely to tilt their heads in photos, with the average amount of head tilt in women being 150 percent higher than in men. And in Sao Paulo, on average women tilt their heads to 16.9 degrees whereas in NYC, women only tilt their head to 11 degrees.
According to Selfiecity’s mood analysis, people in Bangkok and Sao Paulo appear to be happier than people in Moscow. Or at least they smile more in their selfies.
Photo: A young visitor takes a selfie with a wax figure of singer Beyonce last week at Madame Tussauds in New York. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)