From SELFIES to GROUFIES: How the evolution of a trend influences popular culture and technology

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The world has become selfie-obsessed. But is that such a bad thing? If the 70s was the birth of the Information Age and the 2000s gave rise to the Social Age, then perhaps today we are experiencing the bloom of the Age of Expression. Never before has there been a visual art form — a creative, flexible and user-friendly medium — that has so consumed modern popular culture quite like the selfie. And, whether you love them or hate them, surely it’s safe to say that selfies are here to stay.

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Want to share an instant visual communication that condenses where you are, what you’re doing and what you look like into a tidily framed digital avatar? Today, it’s as simple as snapping a swift self-portrait with your smartphone’s forward-facing camera. And it’s usually followed with almost instantaneous online sharing — though that’s entirely up to you. This is selfie culture, and we’re all part of it, be it subject or spectator.

A selfie is not just an overflow of ego. Rather, it’s a modern incarnation of a self-portrait, sans the effort. An instant, visual shard of oneself. It provides a far deeper insight into the subject than simply ‘where’ and ‘what’. Sometimes, a selfie suggests a profound insight into who we think we are, who we think is watching, and perhaps most importantly, how we want our audience to perceive us.

Selfies (or rather, their subjects) are often heavily edited or ‘idealised’, and are regularly scorned as a result. But what form of online sharing is not filtered in some way? Whether it’s a status update or a cover photo or a wall post, most forms of digital indulgence solicit a certain degree of self-moderation. In a warped sense, a selfie can be more honest. When you look at a selfie, you know that what you’re seeing is the subjects’ ideal version of themselves, as apposed to a regular photograph, which only works to capture them on the photographer’s terms.

So, what then, does a groufie say about you, and does it have its own niche in popular culture? ‘Groufie’ is a relatively new term but its meaning is almost self explanatory. Probably the most popular example would be Ellen DeGeneres’ now-famous ‘best photo ever’ from the Oscars—featuring DeGeneres, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o and Angelina Jolie—which received over 2 million retweets before the end of the ceremony and consequently crashed Twitter.

A group-selfie, or ‘groufie’, lends itself more towards comradery and unity. You take a groufie to introduce your real-life social circles to your online social circles and vice versa. It’s a means of merging these two realms, making each more real. It’s saying ‘this is me and these are my friends, and we may not all look perfect, but that’s okay because there’s strength in numbers, and we look great together’. It’s also a method of immortalising a moment in time—a memory—with people you care about enough to share with others. And, of course, a groufie is a great way of namedropping without mentioning names.

Considering the speed at which the selfie and the groufie have become a part of our everyday lives, what does the future look like for this distinctive genre of modern culture? I like to think that the selfie and groufie will maintain the same fluid modus as they have in the past. They are mediums defined predominantly by the devices that support and enable them, and therefore will evolve in parallel to our tech. Take the Huawei Ascend P7’s front facing camera; at 8 mega pixels, it’s the largest front facing camera available on any mobile device currently on the market. The manufacturer clearly understands the development of these pop culture trends and as such, produces the technology that any happy snapper will invariably require.

One thing is for certain: selfies and groufies will continue to transform and influence popular culture and the supporting technologies, opening up new channels for social dialogue and conversation that weren’t there before. Maybe we’ll see the birth of video selfies in the not-too-distant future? Velfies? Perhaps we’ll be snapping selfies in 3D? Who knows? The possibilities are as inexhaustible as our inventiveness. Our ingenuity. Our imagination.

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