Last updated: August 23. 2013 9:17PM - 288 Views

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NEW YORK (AP) In these hyper-connected, over-shared times dwell two kinds of people: those preoccupied with taking and uploading photos of themselves and those who have never heard of the selfie.

The raunchy, goofy, poignant, sexy or drunken self-portrait has been a common sight since phone camera met social media. Now, nearly a decade since the arm-extended or in-the-mirror photos became a mainstay of MySpace duck face or otherwise selfies are a pastime across generations and cultures.

Justin Bieber puts up plenty with his shirt off and Rihanna poses for sultry snaps, but a beaming Hillary Clinton recently took a turn with daughter Chelsea, who tweeted their happy first attempt with the hashtag #ProudDaughter.

Two other famous daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama, selfied at dads second inauguration, pulling faces in front of a smartphone. And Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide earned a spot in the Selfie Hall of Fame with a striking, other-worldly shot, arms extended as reflected in his helmet outside the International Space Station last year.

It just comes so naturally after a point, said Elizabeth Zamora, a 24-year-old marketing account coordinator in Dallas who has taken hundreds of selfies since she got her first iPhone two years ago, with the front-facing camera that has become the selfie gold standard.

You just take it and you dont even realize it and then youre sharing it with all your friends, she said. I try not to go crazy.

If were not taking them, were certainly looking, regardless of whether we know what theyre called. Were lurking on the selfies of our teens, enjoying the hijinx of co-workers and friends and mooning over celebrities, who have fast learned the marketing value and scandalous dangers of capturing their more intimate, unpolished selves.

The practice of freezing and sharing our thinnest slices of life has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term selfie as a possible addition. Time magazine included the selfie in its Top 10 buzzwords of 2012 (at No. 9) and New York magazines The Cut blog declared in April: Ugly Is the New Pretty: How Unattractive Selfies Took Over the Internet.

On Instagram alone, theres #selfiesunday, along with related tags where millions of selfies land daily. More than 23 million photos have been uploaded to the app with the tag #selfie and about 70 million photos clog Instagrams #me.

What are we to make of all this navel-gazing (sometimes literally)? Are selfies, by definition, culturally dangerous? Offensive? An indicator of moral decline?

Beverly Hills, Calif., psychiatrist Carole Lieberman sees narcissism with a capital N. The rise of the selfie is a perfect metaphor for our increasingly narcissistic culture. Were desperately crying out: Look at me!

But Pamela Rutledge doesnt see it that way. The director of the nonprofit Media Psychology Research Center, which explores how humans interact with technology, sees the selfie as democratizing the once-snooty practice of self-portraiture, a tradition that long predates Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

She sees some key differences between selfies and self-portraits of yore. Unlike painted portraiture, selfies are easily deletable. And bad or funny is good in a way that wasnt the case when people had to pay for film to be developed, or for a professional painter, she said.

Albrecht Durers self-portraiture is these incredible self-reflections and explorations of technique, and then when Rihanna snaps her picture its just self-aggrandizement, or its promotion, so you have a fairly interesting double standard based upon whos taking the self-portrait, said Rutledge, in Boston.

In selfies, we can be famous and in control of our own images and storylines. As for the young, the more authority figures parents, teachers dislike them and declare them a sign of a self-obsessed, narcissistic generation, the more desirable they become, she said.

The word selfie in itself carries multiple connotations, Rutledge observes. The ie at the end makes selfie a diminutive, implying some affection and familiarity. From a semantics perspective, the selfie is a little self a small, friendly bit of the self, she said.

Theres a sense of immediacy and temporariness. Granted, little is really temporary on the Internet, but it is more that by definition. Transient, soon to be upstaged by the next one, Rutledge said.

Self-portraits tagged as selfie first surfaced on Flickr, a photo-sharing site, and on MySpace in 2004, Rutledge said. The earliest reference in UrbanDictionary was to selfy in 2005.

In historical terms, elites in Ancient Egypt were fond of self-portraits, Rutledge said. And then there was the mirror, invented in the 15th century and allowing artists like the prolific Durer in Germany to have at it in more meaningful detail.

While the self-involved Narcissus stared at his reflection in a pond in Greek mythology, it was the mirror that really was the first piece of technology where an artist could see his own image long enough to paint it, other than just painting self-impressions, Rutledge said.

Fast forward to the 1860s and the advent of cameras, launching a new round of selfies, though they took considerable skill and expense.

Leap with us once again to 2010 and the launch of Instagram, and on to 2012, when 86 percent of the U.S. population had a cell phone, bringing on the cheaper selfie as social media and mobile Internet access spread.

Whats most interesting to me is how were trying to grapple with what it means, Rutledge said. We know what it means when we see somebodys picture of their kid holding a soccer ball. Were OK with that. And we know what it means to have a portrait in a high school yearbook or of a real estate agent on a business card. We know how to think about all of those things, but we dont know how to think about this mass production of self-reflection.

Is it possible the selfie doesnt mean anything at all?

In the era of the Kardashians, everyone has become their own paparazzi, mused Rachel Weingarten, a personal-brand consultant in New York.

Another New Yorker, 14-year-old Beatrice Landau, tends to agree. She regularly uploads selfies, from vacation shots on Instagram to fleeting images using Snapchat, a phone app that deletes them after 10 seconds.

I know selfies are ridiculous, but its definitely part of our teenage culture, Beatrice said. You dont have to have a person with you to take a picture of you, when you can take one yourself.

Rise of the Selfie
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