Selfies: What do we see in them?

By Adam Earnheardt

I don’t take many selfies.

When I do, my head is usually in a small portion of the frame, and I’m curiously looking over my shoulder at someone or something.

It’s a selfie trick I picked up from other buddies my age – guys with little to no hair up top, or too much hair in the wrong places on our faces.

No need for filters or face morphing apps unless they include toupees or tweezers.

“I’m good with a little nose hair, thank you,” said my friend Dave, lamenting his teenage daughters need to use Photoshop on every selfie before posting it.

“She takes 20 pictures on her phone in 10 seconds, all with the same goofy face, and then picks the best one. What’s wrong with one and done? I miss the days of Polaroid cameras.”

But as my other friends who have teenage kids will tell you, this is absolutely the norm.

A study by Frames Direct suggests that the average teen will spend an hour a week taking selfies. This includes taking the picture, retaking it (often dozens of times) and editing it before posting to Snapchat or Instagram.

The study also reports the average millennial will take nearly 26-thousand selfies in lifetime.

Skip Pritchard, CEO of the Online Computer Library Center, noted in a recent blog post at that the motivations “the selfie generation” have for taking pictures of themselves doing silly things revolves around four key principles:

visibility, reciprocity, creativity and authority.

To explain:

  1. Selfie takers want to be seen. “Whether you’re taking a picture next to someone famous or capturing proof of an important moment, nothing speaks louder than a visual,” Pritchard said. For some, being visible is a hallmark of social media use.

  2. Selfie takers want to know if other people are watching and reacting. Likes and comments are just as important to the image itself. In fact, many of my students have confessed they will delete a selfie if it doesn’t get a satisfactory number of likes or comments. If we give a piece of ourselves to the audience, we expect a reaction in return: reciprocity.

  3. Selfie takers are focused on creativity, which may account for the seemingly endless supply of filters, graphics and image morphing applications available on most social media platforms. “It’s part of what makes these platforms so compelling: that we don’t just have to be in the audience, we can be on stage,” Pritchard said.

  4. Selfie takers are in charge of their own content. The level of authority has changed because what media outlets used to be controlled by a few people is now available to mostly everyone on the planet. Now we are all editors and publishers. For good or bad, we are all mass communicators.

To learn more, search “the selfie generation” at

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn. Have a column idea? Email him at

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