The evolution of the selfie

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Imagine my surprise on a recent trip the theatre with my mother, when she whips out her iPhone and demands that we take a selfie to mark a rare evening spent in each other’s company. The woman can barely text and refuses to allow me to sync her emails with her phone, on the basis that it isn’t “secure”. She’s also something of a social snob and once berated me as a teenager for eating a Pot Noodle in the street. It wasn’t proper, she maintained. But self-photography in the manner of Kim Kardashian, in the splendour of Newcastle’s Theatre Royal, is?

The point I’m trying to make is that nowadays, we’re all a fan of a cheeky selfie. Whether you’re preparing for an epic night out or standing in front of a famous landmark, young or old, standard practice is to capture the moment by holding your phone awkwardly at arms-length and taking a quick snap.


That said, selfies weren’t always the work of moments. It’s estimated that the first example of a selfie, credited to American Robert Cornelius in the year 1839, would have taken up to 15 minutes to take. According to the Huffington Post, Cornelius also went on to open the one of the United States’ first photography shops.

Robert Cornelius selfie Library of Congress


Selfie noun

  1. Informal: A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.


The word selfie received formal recognition and inclusion in the Oxford Dictionary back in 2013, alongside the likes of side boob, amazeballs and YOLO. In fact, thanks to the 17,000% increase in social use of the term, it was crowned the word of 2013. Former winners include chav and credit crunch.

Speaking to the BBC, Editorial Director for Oxford Dictionaries said:

Social media sites helped to popularise the term, with the hashtag #selfie appearing on the photo-sharing website Flickr as early as 2004, but usage wasn’t widespread until around 2012, when selfie was being used commonly in mainstream media sources.

The Google Trends graph below gives an indication of how many people are searching for the phrase ‘selfie’, and the massive peak the term experienced earlier in the year.

Google Trends selfie

FYI: As of August 2014, selfie is an acceptable word to spell when playing a game of Scrabble.

The world’s favourites

It’s hard to pick a favourite, with so many viable contenders to choose from. Of course, the planet’s most-shared selfie takes some beating. The famous shot, captured by Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres and featuring the likes of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep, has been retweeted more than three million times.

And the hilarious case where a monkey took a photo of itself managed to embroil the camera owner, British nature photographer David Slater, in a fierce copyright battle. At the time of writing, Wikimedia Commons maintains that the photo author was the macaque, who cannot hold copyright. The image is therefore in the public domain.

Monkey selfie

The future

If its history is anything to go by, we can expect to see a continuing evolution of the selfie as we know it.

These days, selfie-takers aren’t satisfied with standard mirror shots and are battling to take the most daring and dramatic photos. When Brit Lee Thompson climbed 124ft to perch atop the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, it seemed there was no beating him. That was until Daniel Lau and friends were witnessed casually munching bananas on top of Hong Kong’s fifth-highest skyscraper.

The latter made use of a relatively new craze, the selfie stick, which makes light work of fitting in more people or dramatic backgrounds into the shot. One of Mediaworks’ newest recruits, Alice Fairweather, a self-confessed selfie addict, was quick to get her hands on one and allowed us to indulge our egos with a shot in HQ.


Mediaworks stick selfie

Where do you think the selfie will go next? Will anyone beat the monkey selfie? Share your comments below!


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