WASHINGTON — There’s a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. That may be especially true these days with the huge amount of what are called "selfies" on the Internet. This popular trend of taking a picture of yourself has become pervasive.
The pope’s doing it, President Barack Obama’s doing it, and celebrities like singer Justin Bieber are doing it ALL the time. Selfies.
“I think a lot of people link it to their identity that a selfie is capturing something that they can show to the world that represents themselves,” said Nathaniel Herr, a psychology professor at American University in Washington. He explained why the younger generation, in particular, is taking and posting selfies.
“They’re more comfortable with seeing themselves and thinking about themselves than previous generations were,” he said.
College student Kaitlin Lehmann said they’re just another way her generation communicates. “Like today, I was pissed [angry] about being here at school because it’s Monday, so I sent a snapshot to my friend, and he responded with a similar face that he also did not like Mondays.”
Another student, Alyssa Jones, compares them to a conversation that has stopped in time. “Well, there’s the ‘it’s been a really long day’ so you do like the stare, and then there’s the excited like [shows excited face].”
Lehman said it’s important to her that she can control the images and decide when and where to post them.
“Like this past weekend, I just got this nose ring, and so I was really excited about it, so I sent everyone a picture of me and my new nose ring,” she said.
Some people think selfies are simply narcissistic. A YouTube video by the Chainsmokers makes fun of them.
Lehman, however, looks at the selfie another way. “It could be a form of art. Van Gogh painted pictures of himself and so did Rembrandt,” she said.
A recent study on selfies shows that young people worldwide express themselves differently. Research at the City University of New York compared selfies in five cities -- Moscow, Berlin, New York, Tokyo and Sao Paulo. Lev Manovich, who headed the project, said the average person is about 24 years old.
“The strongest difference that we found was in the head turn, so is the head straight or diagonal? Look at the photos from Moscow, the way girls pose is very much like a fashion magazine. They look like models. In Brazil, they’re playing with the camera. It’s much more informal,” said Manovich.
But there’s also a downside to selfies, according to both Jones and Herr.
“I would not post anything that I wouldn’t want a potential employer to see,” said Jones.
“When young people see celebrities posting pictures that emphasize their attractiveness, they may get the message that's what they should be doing, that they should be emphasizing their own physical qualities over and above all these other qualities they may have, and that can really affect their self-esteem,” said Herr.
Herr doesn’t see selfies as a trend that will go away, even as the 20-somethings get older.
“I think as they get older you’re going to see less selfies among that specific generation, but right behind them there’s a younger group of kids waiting to come into that same phase,” he said.