Know Thy Selfie: One Website’s Attempt To Make Anthropological Sense Of An Annoying Trend

In 2013, all society crumbled when the team behind the Oxford dictionary proclaimed “selfie” the Word of the Year.

We’re still recovering, but in the time since, two “digital culture” experts named Lev Manovich and Daniel Goddemeyer launched a project called Selfiecity which seeked to quantitatively search for Instagram selfie patterns around the world. For a week in December, their team collected thousands of photos off Instagram, selecting those that had been taken in the diverse cities of New York, Bangkok, Moscow, Sao Paulo, and Berlin, then they narrowed that collection down to 640 from each city. The images were then subject to high-level face analysis with the help of Orbeus Inc.’s software, sorting by the presence of visual cues like smiles, glasses, and orientation of the head.

The result is a sophisticated data visualization you can lose hours playing with that you can find here.

You can discover things like people smile a lot more in Bangkok and Sao Paulo than they do in Moscow or that the average head tilt for women is 50% more extreme than the one for men.

But the team has done their best to keep it high-minded. On the site, you can read essays on selfies that discuss topics like feminist media theory and the “Masturbation of Self-Image,” and Goddemeyer even admits: “Rather than being an endpoint, or completely finished project, selfiecity aims to provide a starting point for this ‘intimate’ analysis and storytelling with pictures as data material.”

So snap away, but know that one day that picture of you making duck lips and throwing up deuces is going to go into an academic paper.