Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew discusses the information that can be gathered by researching selfies.

Snap a Selfie and Tell Your Story

By Taylor Chernisky on Dec 20, 2017
selfies research
When a person hears the word “selfie,” they think of narcissistic millennials posting snapshot after snapshot of themselves in the same pose using their mobile device. But what if these pictures are more than just a self-depiction? What if they are a coded piece of history that is pointing us to a social phenomenon and allowing us to peer into human culture and existence?

Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew, instructional designer at Kansas State University and editor of the recently released publication, Selfies as a Mode of Social Media and Work Space Research, pondered that very question when she started researching selfies in 2015.

“I just remember being taken by this really #hot #selfie social phenomenon with celebrities and then common folk sharing their self-portraits in so many ways. There were the buildering images with people perched precariously on some ledge with an image taken from an awkward angle. There were skydivers with images of them floating to earth with their friends, hand-in-hand, in beautiful formations. There were the more down-to-earth images of people in various recognizable settings, having coffee or talking to friends or just smiling,” explained Hai-Jew of her initial reaction to selfies.

In the publication, she covers her fascination of this niche topic and its indications about individuals, groups and societies, and highlights how selfies are not only a snapshot, but instead a picture worth a thousand words.

“I was and am taken by how comfortable people are sharing themselves on social media,” Hai-Jew states. “Throughout this research, I’ve learned how high-dimensional #selfies are and how many ways they may be analyzed for informational value.”

She explains that there is a lot that can be learned from selfies. “These provide insights on social phenomena and cultural practices. These practices may be explored geographically or by people groups. The individuals in the selfies may be analyzed by their people groups—and various demographic features.”

When studying selfies, you can profile an individual by:
  • His/her self-presentation
  • A group of people
  • A locale
  • An event
  • A practice
  • and many other factors
From these profiles, individual cultures can be studied. The approaches to analyzing selfies stem from traditions in psychology, socio-cultural analytics, various qualitative coding methods, quantitative analytics methods, etc.

“Social media platforms have enabled the capturing of large sets of image data based on words, phrases, descriptors and tags, and it is possible now to extract fuller senses of phenomena in selfie sets. People are complex and many-dimensional, and selfies have broadened to capture some more of that dimensionality,” explained Hai-Jew.

For instance, she found that American students who take selfies view it as a way to record their life, while across the globe, Chinese students view it as image management and of a more narcissistic nature. This comparison alone points to cultural differences and complexities contained within the images. Additionally, it can shed light on individuals in the workplace and ultimately encourage co-collaboration, support and attention in a workspace.

Since beginning this research in 2015, social media and selfies have both become even more sophisticated and mature. As selfies, and the technology surrounding them, become more enhanced, the valuable information that can be drawn from them increases simultaneously. People are no longer just using their cell phones to snap a selfie, but some are even using drones, creating the new sensation of “dronies”.

It is clear to see, from “dronies” to the new iPhone X being unlocked by a selfie, these self-depictions are impacting humanity at a rapid rate and much is still yet to be explored. As Hai-Jew states, “I think we’re so early in terms of the study of selfies that the only guess I would hazard is that it will blossom in a number of different directions. So, little has been mapped about how to approach the study of this phenomenon.”

Her innovative, peer-reviewed publication is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding this phenomenon, and now the challenge for researchers is to adjust to the multi-dimensional richness of photo/image data analysis and explore not only what is intentionally shared, but what is behind the image, from metadata to the background.
IGI Global would like to thank Dr. Hai-Jew for taking the time to discuss the information that can be gained from researching selfies. For more of Dr. Hai-Jew’s research on selfies and social media, please view and recommend these advanced titles: Selfies as a Mode of Social Media and Work Space Research, Social Media Data Extraction and Content Analysis, and Social Media Listening and Monitoring for Business Applications.

For additional information on selfie research, please view the publications below:


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