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John Gushue
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To thine own selfie be true

I blame Miley Cyrus — not for any bumping, grinding or sending parents into a tizzy, but for making “twerk” a significantly more discussed word in the last week than “selfie.”

Both words were added to the venerable Oxford English Dictionary’s not-quite-as-venerable online edition, as well as such other zeitgeisty words as bitcoin, hackespace and srsly.

It was coincidence that Cyrus happened to be twerking on the Video Music Awards (setting off a media storm that seemed to generate more headlines and possible debate than intervention in Syria) just days before the OED granted it official standing.

For me, the more significant word, and activity, is the selfie, or a self-taken photograph on a phone. It’s associated with smartphones, as well as social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

The selfie gets a bit of a hard knock. For some people, it’s not much of a leap to go from “selfie” to “self-absorbed” … and I guess I understand that. But I have a more compassionate view of the selfie. Some of the selfies I’ve seen have been revelations of character; some are whimsical; others put me, just for an instant, in the shoes of the travelling soul who took the snap to share with those back home.

Documenting the self is a time-honoured path. From Rembrandt to Goya, from Van Gogh to Kahlo, there is a rich tradition of self-portraiture in art. No one is suggesting that a typical selfie plastered on Facebook is remotely close to that league, but it’s the instinct that is significant.

Most selfies I see don’t qualify as art, but neither do they even try. To get a broader sense of what’s out there, I spent some time looking through a queue of images tagged as such in Tumblr, the microblogging platform.

I saw pretty much what I expected: often, the photos show teens or young adults, having fun or being miserable (maybe even both, in some blank-expression cases); just as often they’re doing something creative with their free time.

Yes, this is the age in life when it’s too easy to be focused on one’s self; after all, this is when identity is getting hammered out, so it makes sense a young person would use their camera as a way to do just that.

At the same time, it’s easy to see someone who’s middle-aged, or a senior, doing the very same kind of activity.

The selfie has also become a way of making a signpost, or sending a “wish you were here” postcard, or capturing a mood. It all can vary.

But as the word settles into the dictionary, a marker for sure that it has arrived as a figure of speech, the selfie continues to reflect something of who we are. It truly is a part of the culture, and nothing at all to laugh at.


Elsewhere this week


Do you work on more than one computer in the run of a day? While portable devices are becoming increasingly popular, many of us still work on desktop machines or in fixed workstations, and/or with a laptop in the mix.

Cupcloud offers a service if you’re the kind of person who needs to keep working at home. Run Cupcloud in the background as you work, and when it’s time to leave, simply click on the “cup” icon to, well, put your stuff in a cup.

Later, when you log on somewhere else, you can pick up where you left off … so long as you’re using a prescribed set of programs and browsers supported by Cupcloud.

Cupcloud is in public beta, meaning that’s it’s available for free, but is still officially in testing.


John Gushue is a digital producer with

CBC News in St. John’s. Blog:

Organizations: Oxford English Dictionary, CBC News

Geographic location: Syria

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