Lentis/Social Aspects of Cell Phone Cameras

The Rise of the SelfieEdit

The number of people who own a smart phone in America has been increasing, so now, in 2013, 57% of Americans own a smartphone with camera capabilities [1]. These smartphone users are highly connected to their phones; they don’t eat, sleep, work, or play without them. The IDC Research Report reported that 4 out of 5 smartphone users touch their phone within fifteen minutes of being awake, and 1 in 4 users can’t remember a single time during the day they did not have their phone on them.

Camera phones make sure that everything is always documented, and smartphones allow the user to spread that information in a wide range of platforms with many readers. This technology therefore lead to the cultural phenomenon-- the selfie.

Taking a picture of oneself has occurred since the invention of the camera, but changes in camera phone hardware and phone application software have made the immediate sharing of a self-portrait to a universal audience possible. The selfie has become so widely used that "selfie" was named the Oxford Word of the Year for 2013. This increase in selfies has critics accusing the Millennial Generation of being narcissistic, with others countering that the selfie is not due to increased narcissism, but a way for the Millennial Generation to create art and document life stories.

Camera Phone HardwareEdit

History of the Camera PhoneEdit

In 2000, Sharp Corporation combined camera and mobile phone technologies to pioneer the first Camera Phone, the J-SH04[2]. Other cell phone companies such as Sony, Samsung, Nokia, and LG saw the significance of this innovation and started improving the quality of the cell phone camera. Sharp's first camera phone had 0.11-megapixel capabilities, and today, cell phone cameras have 8 megapixel capabilities[3].

As the technology improved, cell phone cameras became more widely used and revolutionized how people capture pictures and share them. By 2002, Sharp had sold 5 million camera phones: about 40% of all cell phones sold during this time [2]. Now, in 2013, 85% of all mobile phones created have embedded digital cameras [4]. With the majority of users having a high functioning camera on their cell phones, 43% of people use their cell phone as their primary camera [5]. This is supported by the subsequent decline in the market for the classic camera-- "sales of digital cameras have fallen dramatically, declining by as much as 29% since 2006"[6].

Technology & SocietyEdit

The demand for "smarter phones" has been increasing-- 49.4% of the total US population uses smart phones [7]. With such a large market, cell phone companies have been competing to upgrade their camera phone technology. The improvements to cell phone camera technology includes not only the amount of megapixels the cameras have, but also the user interface and how users interact with cameras on their cell phones.

The technology behind the camera phone user experience has been changing to fit the needs of the users. An example of this is shown in the development of the front facing camera on cell phones which was created because users were using cell phone cameras to take self portraits and needed a way to accomplish this easily. Before front facing camera phones, users would need to use a mirror or blindly take the photo. The first front facing camera was marketed 2002 and since, most camera phones have adopted this feature [8]. Apple and Samsung are among the companies to improve the front facing camera functionality. They were able to gear the technology towards society's need by making it easy for users to take "selfies". For example, Apple released their first phone with a front facing camera, the iPhone 4, in 2010 and since then, all iPhones have come out with improved front facing camera interfaces [9]. Apple’s competitor, “Samsung [, also] discovered that selfies make up 30% of the photos taken by people between the ages of 18–24,” and since then have focused on increasing the quality of their front facing camera[10]. Society’s interest to take "selfies" shaped technology by influencing companies to improve cell phone camera hardware.

Camera Phone SoftwareEdit

Supporting the Sharing of PhotographsEdit

Since the first use of the word selfie in 2002, its definition has changed and its use has increased because of the development of applications such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat [11]. A selfie is now defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website [12].” In 2013, the frequency of the word selfie increased 17,000% in the English language[13]. This drastic increase in use has been attributed to the increase of selfies on social media applications: Facebook has 874 million mobile users, Instagram has 150 million active users, and 9% of all cell phone users use Snapchat [14]. Out of all of these applications to share photos, many of the photos shared are selfies: 57 million photos bear #selfie on instagram alone.

Social Acceptance of SelfiesEdit

Selfies have become so widely used that the word “selfie” has been named the Oxford Word of the Year for 2013, causing a variety of reactions from participants[15]. Opinions range from claiming selfies symbolize an “innocent love for humanity” to @DepressedDarth tweeting “Selfie has been named the Word of the Year, in related news, the Death Star now has a reason to destroy Earth [16].”

As social media sites and camera phones perpetuate the use of the word selfie, the cultural acceptance of the sharing of selfies has increased. A survey analyzing social and communication applications on mobile devices found that in 2012 sharing and posting photos was in the top seven most popular smart phone activities [17].

Celebrities also influence the social acceptance of selfies: Miley Cyrus has 121 selfies on Twitter and Kylie Jenner has 451 selfies on Instagram [18].

Why Take a SelfieEdit

The Selfie & The Narcissism EpidemicEdit

In March 2013, Time magazine published an article titled “The ME ME ME Generation” by Joel Stein. In this article, he describes the Millennial Generation as being “lazy, entitled, selfish, and shallow.” Seen on the left , is the March 2013 cover displaying a young adult in an iconic selfie pose, one arm extended with the phone facing them [19]. This cover photo shows that in many people’s mind, the selfie is a manifestation of those qualities that Stein accuses the Millennials of having.

Stein justifies his claim using a study by Jean Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic and Generation Me, which concludes that narcissism is indeed increasing among the current young adults from those in the early 2000s [20]. These studies are conducted using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) to measure a person’s level of narcissism, or obsession with self. The NPI is a multiple choice personality test that measures seven different components of narcissism: authority, superiority, vanity, exhibitionism, entitlement, exploitativeness, and self-sufficiency [21]. This data is then used to decide if the patient can be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) printed by the American Psychiatric Association.

Twenge’s study, Mapping the Scale of the Narcissism Epidemic, has been debated throughout the psych community, particularly by Dr. Brent Donnellan and his colleagues[22]. He has shown that Twenge’s data is not statistically significant and using different probability methods results in even less conclusive data about changes in narcissistic behavior in young adults throughout the generations in An Emerging Epidemic or Much Ado About Nothing?.[23] This suggests that the data Stein used to draw his conclusions in the TIME article is actually faulty. It’s still important to note that the selfie has been marked as a sign of increased self-obsession.

And sure, this negative selfie connotation isn’t completely misplaced. People with a higher number of selfies on their Facebook are less likely to be in a relationship [24] and that those relationships are more likely to be shallow and alienate you from other users [25]. But many artists would argue selfies aren’t completely a degenerate habit of a younger generation, but a way of expressing modern life.

How Modern Artists Use the SelfieEdit

Different artists are using the selfie to create art. Murad Osmann's instagram is filled with pictures of his hand being held by his girlfriend. The project is labeled “#followmeto” and is about his travels to different places around the world [26]. In her series 40 Weeks and a Mirror , Sophie Starzenski documents the stages of pregnancy by taking a selfie of her changing body in the mirror every few weeks [27]. Another artist, Dan Moore, is a LifeStyle photographer promoting GoPro cameras and capturing his adventures by spinning in a circle and holding the camera facing him [28]. All of these examples show that “selfies” are a legitimate art medium that artists are choosing to use during the modern age.

And this isn’t a new phenomenon of documenting oneself as an medium of art; in the late 1800s, Vincent van Gogh painted around 35 self-portraits by looking at himself in the mirror. Now in the 21st century, the canvas is replaced with film paper [29].

Telling Our Life StoriesEdit

The folk saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” takes on a new meaning with the rising selfie posts. Because of new technology, our generation has the capability of documenting and sharing almost every situation. Twitter, a social networking site with a 140 character limit per post, shows that snapping a quick photo of oneself at an interesting location or with a group of friends without having to draw out a long winded explanation. Selfies posted from peoples accounts are now how many celebrities tell their fan base news, such album releases, tour dates, or performances. Miley Cyrus has 15.9 million followers on Twitter, and used the account to promote her new videos and her tour dates. She currently has the number one watched video, Wrecking Ball, of 2013 on VEVO, and a lot of that success can be attributed to images from that video posted on her Twitter account [30].

Jeff Bridges also takes selfies, not to promote his new work, but to document the people he’s worked with, like the picture of Bridges with Sam Elliot from The Big Lebowski. Sometimes he took selfies just to document different film settings, like the picture on the set of True Grit [31]. Astronaut Luca Parmitano also used his Twitter to post a legendary career moment [32], and the Obama daughters used a selfie to document an important moment for the family [33]. Celebrities and famous people aren’t the only individuals using the selfie to document their life events; Kai Jordan and James Doernberg took pictures of themselves at all 118 subway stations in New York City [34].

Selfie culture is becoming an icon of modern life. One popular internet meme is taking old pictures, such as the Time Square after WWII and the portrait of Winston Churchill , and editing in the classic selfie arm used to hold the camera facing oneself [35]. These pictures are not meant to represent an increasingly self-obsessed culture, but individuals that are finding new ways to document and share their life stories by taking advantage of technological innovation.


Taking a selfie has become a social normality for most American young adults because of technological innovation. It is a way for artists to represent modern life and every day folk to document and tell their life stories.

This section of the chapter focused solely on the "selfie" and its relationship to cell phone cameras. Further groups could delve into cell phone cameras affect on the justice system due to phone recording capabilities, the impact of "geo-tagging" on uploaded photos, or the sexting epidemic among young teens.

References and NotesEdit

  1. IDC Research Report, Sponsored by Facebook. (2012). Always Connected. How Smart Phones and Scial Keep us Engaged.
  2. a b Wan, Hoi (Feb 2012). "Evolution of the Cameraphone: From Sharp J-SH04 to Nokia 808 Pureview". http://www.hoista.net/post/18437919296/evolution-of-the-cameraphone-from-sharp-j-sh04-to. 
  3. "It is debated that Samsung's VCH200 came before.". http://tech.uk.msn.com/mobiles/history-of-the-camera-phone#image=2. 
  4. Worthington, Paul. (August 20, 2012). Almost all phones to have cameras next year. Retrieved from http://pmanewsline.com/2012/08/20/almost-all-phones-to-have-cameras-next-year/#.Uqih7cRDuSo
  5. Horn, Leslie. (June 27, 2011). 43 Percent of People Use their Cell Phone as their Primary Camera, Poll Finds. Retrieved from http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2387677,00.asp
  6. Press (June 2012). "Sales of digital cameras decline as consumers snap up smartphones". http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/technology-press-centre/sales-of-digital-cameras-decline-as-consumers-snap-up-smartphones. 
  7. IDC Research Report, Sponsored by Facebook (2012). Always Connected. How Smart Phones and Social Keep us Engaged
  8. Contributing Editor (July 2012). "Will the front-facing camera become more important than the rear-facing one?". http://www.phonedog.com/2013/07/05/will-the-front-facing-camera-become-more-important-than-the-rear-facing-one/. 
  9. Bettany, Lisa. "How does the iPhone 5 camera compare to previous iPhone cameras?". http://campl.us/posts/6iPhoneCameras. 
  10. Costill, Albert (Dec 2010). "13 Things You Should Know About the ‘Word of the Year’ – Selfie". http://www.searchenginejournal.com/13-things-know-word-year-selfie/78339/#T4QBfxFu0yhZLQuJ.99. 
  11. Australian Associated Press. (November 18, 2013). Selfie: Australian slang term named international word of the year. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/19/selfie-australian-slang-term-named-international-word-of-the-year
  12. Oxford Dictionaries. (2013). Definition of Selfie in English. Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/selfie
  13. Brumfield, Ben. (November 20, 2013). Selfie named word of the year for 2013. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/19/living/selfie-word-of-the-year/
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  17. IDC Research Report, Sponsored by Facebook (2012). Always Connected. How Smart Phones and Social Keep us Engaged
  18. Costill, Albert. (Dec 2, 2013). 13 Things you should know about the 'Word of the Year'-- Selfie. Retrieved from http://www.searchenginejournal.com/13-things-know-word-year-selfie/78339/
  19. Stein, J. (2013, May 20). Millennials: The me me me generation. TIME Magazine, Retrieved from http://aflv.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=9oRpYJDnhCw=
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  21. Raskin, R., and Howard, T. “A principal-components analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and further evidence of its construct validity.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 54(5), May 1988, 890-902.
  22. Trzesniewski, , Donnellan, and Robins. "Do Today’s Young People Really Think They Are So Extraordinary? An Examination of Secular Trends in Narcissism and Self-Enhancement." Psychological Science. 19.2 (2008): n. page. Print.
  23. M. Brent Donnellan, Kali H. Trzesniewski, Richard W. Robins, An emerging epidemic of narcissism or much ado about nothing?, Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 43, Issue 3, June 2009, Pages 498-501, ISSN 0092-6566, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2008.12.010.
  24. Shawn M. Bergman, Matthew E. Fearrington, Shaun W. Davenport, Jacqueline Z. Bergman, Millennials, narcissism, and social networking: What narcissists do on social networking sites and why, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 50, Issue 5, April 2011, Pages 706-711, ISSN 0191-8869, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2010.12.022.
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  27. My Modern Met. (2013, October 17). Photographer documents her own pregnancy in striking selfies. Retrieved from http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/sophie-starzenski-pregnancy-selfies
  28. Moore, D. (2013, Feb 1). Selfie travel spin: World wide gopro spin. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wi6wtLfUtJU
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  30. Cyrus, M. (2013). @mileycyrus. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/MileyCyrus
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  32. Parmitano, L. (2013, July 11). @astro_luca. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/astro_luca/status/355220940440883200
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  34. Calderon, A. (2013, July 15). This couple took selfies at all 118 subway stations in manhattan. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/this-couple-took-selfies-at-all-118-subway-stations-in-manha
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