Should Selfies be Studied?

Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian and the Pope. Not three names that usually appear adjacently on a list, but these three public figures all have something in common; they’ve all been the subject of a famous selfie.

The modern trend of taking a picture of oneself has thrived alongside the rise of social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram. In a recent Impact survey, 89% of respondents admitted to taking a selfie in the past year and with the number of Instagram posts with the hashtag #selfie reaching 302 million, it seems that the fascination with selfies is only growing in popularity.

However, with the recent news that selfies are to become part of the syllabus for A-Level Sociology it does raise the question, are selfies really worthy of in-depth study?

This is not the first time that selfies have been a topic of debate in the news. The #nomakeupselfie charity campaign made headlines earlier in the year when it raised £8 million for Cancer Research UK and who can forget that star-studded selfie from the Oscars that temporarily broke Twitter?

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In that case a selfie certainly did tell a thousand words but a quick visit to social media sites reveals that most selfies are generic pictures of people posing solo that remain fairly unremarkable to the eyes of a stranger. Famous selfies are few and far between, so just how does one study the trend of selfies and their impact on society when, quite frankly, the majority of selfies don’t hold much significance to the general public?

“More people worldwide [have] access to a mobile phone (six billion) than to a working toilet (4.5 billion)”

OCR, the exam board behind the syllabus, explained that the volume of selfies taken today make them relevant to the subject: “With more than 1.3 billion people on Facebook, over a million selfies posted each day and more people worldwide having access to a mobile phone (six billion) than to a working toilet (4.5 billion), students will analyse how societies manage the positive and negative impacts of, for example, freedom of information, privacy, online safety, equality of access to technology and gender stereotyping”.

What do students make of this addition to the syllabus? “Social media is very relevant to society today and it’s a good idea that A-Levels are keeping with the times and not just ploughing over the same old fashioned stuff”, third year Natural Sciences student Lucy Nicholls tells Impact. However, Nicholls also expresses concern that the amount of time spent studying selfies could tarnish the course’s reputation, adding “if students spend a lot of time studying selfies it’ll undermine the subject”.

“This sounds more like a desperate attempt to try and engage students at any cost”

Will Hazell, a recent University of Nottingham Sociology graduate, is sceptical about the decision, telling Impact: “It is possible that selfies could be of sociological interest, but this sounds more like a desperate attempt to try and engage students at any cost. Sociology provides a rich insight into many of the many problems facing the world today and it’d be a shame if A-Level syllabuses ducked away from these heavier topics just to try and maintain interest”.

The study of selfies: an obsession with vanity gone too far or a fresh approach to the curriculum? What do you think?

Natasha Gregson

Originally published in Impact Magazine.

Photo Credits: Lotus Carroll via Compfight cc and Paško Tomić via Flickr.

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