Yes, that happened — and according to Oxford, the decision was “with little if any argument.” Oxford had it as a ‘word on the radar’ back in June 2012 (the Oxford Dictionaries blog is surprisingly pretty interesting), but as they themselves note — this year the idea behind the ‘selfie’ blew up, with everyone from The First Dog to The Pope getting in on the craze.
Maybe the most interesting aspect of the posting announcing ‘selfie’ as Word of the Year is its origins. According to Oxford, it appears to have first surfaced in an Australian Internet forum in 2002, where someone describes taking a photo of themselves drunk. (Here’s a shot of the first-ever ‘selfie,’ from an Australian man who identifies as “Hopey.”) The fact that he was an Aussie explains the construction of the word — they tend to add “-ie” type sounds to the end of things (“barbie” and “postie,” for example). “Hopey” also favored black rum on ice as a nightcap, FYI.
So, the selfie has permeated culture — The Today Show, which long ago seemed to stop caring about any kind of real storytelling, has a poll on its website to rate the “best selfie of 2013” right now — but there’s a bigger problem here. The simple idea of the selfie is all about ridiculous narcissism on surface — here I am, duckface and all, so love me. But maybe it’s really about a desperate search for connection in an increasingly online social world. Snapchat has a selfie-esque quality to it; Facebook almost dropped $3 billion on it last week. Clearly there’s a value in using isolated moments of your life to connect with others.
(It should probably also be noted that the runner-up for Word of the Year was ‘twerk.’)
(I said humorous, but some don’t agree.)
There’s even a Selfie Song now, with north of a million hits on YouTube:
I’m not any type of broad cultural critic, nor do I think that position should really exist in society given how different everyone’s backstories and contexts are. Clearly, ‘selfie’ has blown up as a word and a concept in the past year; if the first appearance was truly in September 2002, it’s been nearly a revolution in that time. It probably deserves to be Word of the Year. But … does it signal something else about our society? We clearly love ourselves, but has self-obsession gone too far? Phrased another way, has the need to have all your friends know what you’re doing and where you’re posing at that moment reached a potential tipping point? (Interestingly, the privacy of something like Snapchat is valued by many as opposed to the public nature of Facebook.) I guess here’s another way to think about it: could you possibly imagine your parents being part of a selfie generation? Probably not, and it’s possible they were your age only 20-30 years ago. Google is only 15 years old. Things are changing rapidly with how we communicate and share info … but is that for the best? (Apparently I have no answers, just questions.)
Selfies also have a place in the generations-old mating ritual of male and female:
Meanwhile, this might be the single-best reaction out of multiple (literally 10,000s) options on Twitter:
Good, bad, or indifferent … it’s definitely a sign that how we functionally showcase ourselves and relate to our friends has drastically changed even over the past decade.