Sometime in the late-21st century, when linguists and anthropologists are working to pinpoint the exact date when the selfie died, they might trace the Moment of Death for the Selfie (at least among a certain group of Millennials) to Nov. 19, 2013. That, of course, was the day when the esteemed arbiters of words and stuff at the Oxford English Dictionary officially named “selfie” the 2013 Word of the Year. Not-so-coincidentally, it was the same day that Millennials around the world let out a collective “ugh,” put down their collective camera phones, and rolled their collective eyes so far back into their heads that a few of them might have blacked out for a little bit.
Nothing says jumping the shark like having the olds tell the young’uns what’s cool, and the mainstreaming of the selfie may ultimately lead to its demise. After all, it’s one thing when Justin Bieber posts an endless stream of adorbz selfies on his Instagram account, but it’s an entirely different thing when your mom (or your grandmother) has started posting selfies. On their Facebook accounts, no less. Let’s not get started on the Death of Facebook for Millennials, sheesh.
By the end of 2013, there seemed to be chatter among some Millennials on relatively old-people-free zones like Tumblr and Snapchat calling for “No Selfies in 2014.” So while President Obama and Pope Francis were still making duck faces on their iPhones, Millennials were all, “Um. No. My feels. I can’t even.”
Suddenly, it seemed, the inklings of an anti-selfie movement was afoot. Journalists were maybe kinda sorta being banned from taking selfies at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. A popular New York nightclub banned selfies because of reasons. Even noted American narcissist and pseudo-politico Sarah Palin offered her own anti-selfie stance, which encouraged young ladies to take pics of themselves with fish instead of by themselves in bathrooms, but her advice was TL;DR, so whatevs.
But when 2014 rolled around, young peeps were all, “Don’t tell me what to do!” And the vanity selfie morphed into the competitive selfie, as #selfiegame and #selfieolympics started trending on Twitter and stuff. The object of the selfie was no longer simply about garnering attention and/or likes. The selfie had become a blood sport. Gone were the pretty #nofilter GPOY selfies that screamed, “I’m bored but look at how pretty I am!!!,” replaced by the awesome #nofilter acrobatic selfies that screamed, “I’m hanging from a bathroom door, cooking a grilled cheese sandwich (in the bathroom!!!), and playing the trombone, but look at how pretty I am!!!”
Maybe it’s true that social media has created (or at least fueled) a culture of narcissism, but scratch beneath the surface and there’s probably something more going on. For all of their always-on connectedness and claims of #yolo, Millennials may be starting to experience a sense of isolation and tech fatigue that even the cutest selfie can’t cure. Rather than feeding the seemingly insatiable impulse to document experiences through selfies, Millennials might be starting to realize that being in the moment might actually be enough, that the experience itself has value.
Or maybe not. The siren song of the front-facing phone camera might prove to be more than most Millennials can withstand. As self-proclaimed selfie-enthusiast James Franco recently opined, the value of selfies may be less about telling peeps what you’re doing and more about showing peeps what you’re feeling. In our visual culture, those selfies are worth more than a thousand words.