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Book Review: Selfies: Why We Love (and Hate) Them by Katrin Tiidenberg


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According to Mashable, the average person will take around 25,000 selfies in their lifetime. Thanks to smartphone cameras and the rise of social media, the selfie has become one of our main modes of self-expression.

But there’s more to selfies than duck-faces and the selfie-arm, argues Katrin Tiidenberg. In her new book Selfies: Why We Love (and Hate) Them, she poses selfies as a cultural mechanism which spans back to the early days of portraiture and the very first photographs. Selfies go far beyond just a quick snap with a front-facing camera, Tiidenberg says - they’re actually ‘self-representational networked photographs’. Seen through the context of Internet sharing and communication, selfies don’t even have to be images of your own face: sharing a photo of your gluten-free brunch or a Starbucks cup with your name on can constitute a self-representational networked photograph. Sometimes even just sharing a meme to your Facebook page can be a selfie.

Tiidenberg’s new book has a lot of good things going for it. It’s a quick, informative read at just 158 pages, and it introduces a lot of nuanced concepts in order to look at our own Information Age in a new light, using occasional anecdotes from her own life to illustrate her points. She questions WHY selfies are important, how they originated, and what exactly makes a selfie a selfie. There’s a handy glossary of new terms included with the introduction, and some nice summations of the overall content in the conclusion. If you want a quick, illuminating read, Selfies: Why We Love (and Hate) Them could be the little book for you.

However, there are instances in which Tiidenberg appears to struggle to achieve a balance between dense, academic writing and simple explanations of the ideas she introduces. More unfamiliar terms such as ‘affordances’ and ‘visuality’ are introduced and explained quickly in the introduction, and never really reiterated throughout the book. Meanwhile, the meaning of more familiar language - performativity ‘directs our attention at the constructive or generative power of some acts or utterances’ - is perhaps muddied through overly technical jargon. All of this would be fine if the book was intended for an academic audience, but Selfies and other books in the SocietyNow series are marketed to make academia accessible to wider audiences.

And are selfies really that important? Tiidenberg posits them as having different meanings depending on context - selfies can be used, for example, as political statements. Pose with a protest banner and add a relevant hashtag, and your selfie can be used to express your political beliefs or to engage with events. Upload a selfie of you wearing or using something you’re looking to sell, and selfies can be used for work, as a lot of social media influencers around the globe do. Selfies can be used to raise your self-esteem, to communicate with friends, to make memories. But does the average person really consider them as important beyond their original conveyance of meaning? And if not, are selfies really that integral to modern society?

Tiidenberg’s final chapter attempts to grapple with these questions. She suggests that we could be - or are at least heading towards - a ‘post-selfie’ culture. Apparently by using apps that transform and edit selfies with filters or blurred effects, or even Snapchatting a 10-second selfie, we are in some ways erasing the self-representational aspect of selfie culture. In this vein, the last chapter is possibly the most interesting, and presents a lot of unique ideas.

Tiidenberg definitely presents a fascinating, mostly accessible primer on selfie culture with Selfies: Why We Love (and Hate) Them. Selfies, as ‘a way to create and maintain relationships, build communities, mount protests, understand or accept oneself’, are both incredibly relevant to contemporary society and mostly unresearched - Tiidenberg has certainly carved out a niche in the market with her book, one which is an almost unspoken aspect of modern life.

Selfies: Why We Love (and Hate) Them by Katrin Tiidenberg, published by Emerald Publishing, is available on Amazon for £13.52.

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