Editorial: Selfie cities

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

IN THE cities in which we live, all of us see hundreds of publicity images every day of our lives. No other kind of image confronts us so frequently.”

The English art critic and poet John Berger made this observation in 1972, in his book “Ways of Seeing.” What would he make of the barrage of publicity images made available today, thanks to the increasing availability of smart phones and Internet access?

A phenomenon that did not exist at the time of Berger’s book, but which now stands out especially among the tech-savvy young, is the selfie: the self-portrait that is then shared within one’s social networks.


Time magazine, in an article this week, lists Cebu City as ninth among “The Selfiest Cities of the World,” with 99 selfie-takers for every 100,000 people. Makati and Pasig, combined, topped the list with 258 selfie-takers per 100,000 people. Time based its list on 402,197 Instagram photos tagged #selfie from Jan. 28 to Feb. 2, 2014 and from March 3 to 7, 2014.

Yet what does the metric “people who take selfies per capita” reveal? It suggests, for one, that the gap between digital haves and have-nots persists, because the cities that top the list are those where smart phone adoption and median income are higher than in more far-flung communities.

It is tempting to echo Berger’s observations—that “publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour” and “the power of the glamorous resides in their supposed happiness”—but it would be unfair to label all selfie-takers in this fashion. Yes, there are those whose selfies defied good judgment, like US President Barack Obama’s selfie during a memorial service for Nelson Mandela, or those selfies snapped against a backdrop of communities ravaged by the Oct. 15 earthquake or Yolanda.

But for the most part, selfies are harmless images, meant to celebrate a happy occasion, a favorite outfit or a brief break in the midst of the day’s toil and traffic. That several Philippine cities landed among the world’s “selfiest cities” does not necessarily make us more self-absorbed than others; it may simply suggest that we are more tech-happy than most.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 12, 2014.


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