Last week the Oxford Dictionary named ‘selfie’ as the Word of The Year for 2013. It is estimated that the use of the word has increased by 17,000 % from last year having had the biggest impact on the English language. The official Oxford Dictionary definition for ‘selfie’ is: “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a Smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” The term has evolved from being a niche social media term to one that has entered mainstream everyday language, one of the most popular selfies taken this year was by Pope Francis posing with teenagers; a PR coup for the Vatican showing that the current Pope is in touch and ‘down with the kids’..
Mainstream media communicators were first to tap into and highlight the power ofsocial media, whether this is through sharing links, #trending, or maximizing celeb selfies and product placement. Such instant access can be seen as having wide-ranging and cost-effective benefits for business advertising and PR.
However, the selfie phenomenon also raises the question whether our obsession with online is having a detrimental effect on our actual physical social lives. For example, alongside selfie another word that has emerged recently is ‘phubbing’, used to describe the act of snubbing someone during a social interaction to check your phone. We are apparently now so obsessed with sharing every moment of our lives online that we risk not living in the moment and instead living digital lives, almost like a real-time virtual Sims game. Is an experience worth having if you can’t take a selfie while doing it? Are we living to selfie?
Phubbing has become such an irritating social trend that a “Stop Phubbing Campaign” has been launched in Australia as a result of outrage at the lack of social manners and etiquette it is causing. A recent well-publicised example of this involved a Sainsbury’s Supermarket worker getting into trouble for refusing to serve a customer while they were on their phone. Sainsburys later apologised for this but thousands of people praised the checkout assistant for taking a stand against anti-social behaviour.
Another example came from a friend who recently told me that during the church ceremony of a wedding she actually saw the bride’s dress for the first time on twitter as someone at the back of the church had tweeted a selfie with the bride before she had made her way to the altar (I declined to ask why she was even checking twitter during the ceremony..) Anyone who has been to a wedding recently may have noticed that it’s like being at a concert with a sea of flashing lights from smart-phone camera flashes.
Are we becoming so immersed in our own online PR through the constant updating of our status, checking-in and uploading that we are in danger of becoming anti-social in the process? So, whilst used in the right context social media is clearly a very powerful medium, it nevertheless has its pitfalls in terms of the potential damage it can do to personal relationships, so at your next social engagement keep in mind you might be missing a social interaction that’s staring you in the face whilst your face is buried in your phone.