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Why selfies just aren’t cool any more

10 Sep

Selfies are nothing new. The first documented selfie was taken by a man named Robert Cornelius, long before the age of the internet. But even back then, this devilishly handsome hipster apparently managed to add a little Instgram-chique to his pose with a retro filter… Or perhaps that’s just the fact that this selfie was taken almost 200 years ago.

First ever selfie: Robert Cornelius

“I wish they’d hurry up and invent #instagram so I can upload this #selfie” – Robert Cornelius, 1839.

The selfie’s rise to prominence

In spite of the selfie’s prolonged history, it cannot be denied that this phenomenon has exploded in recent years. Why? Well, the internet certainly played a part.

If you look back at most MySpace/ Facebook profiles circa 2006, you’ll see that the majority of profile pictures back then were selfies – way before anybody used the word ‘selfie’, of course.

The reason for this is simple; we had to use self-portraits not because they were cool, but because they were necessary. For a start this is before we all had camera phones. Back then, most of us were also still adapting to the idea of uploading our personal pictures – ones usually confined to the privacy of our printed photo albums – to the internet. The selfie was a means to an end.

And then, as with all trends, some people with a smart sense of satire caught on to the fact that taking these ‘selfies’ could also be amusing if done with a healthy pinch of irony; posing yes, but also mocking the photoshopped perfection of similar pictures in magazines and undermining society’s enforced concept of beauty. This irony is what made selfies edgy, and therefore, cool.

Stop the madness!

But it’s gone too far. If you have a profile picture I already know what you look like. I don’t need you to post endless pictures of you: with your cat, when you just woke up, at work, pouting topless in front of a mirror, on the toilet. That’s not the point!

As with most ‘cool’ stuff, selfies were trendy before somebody labelled them. It was fine when they were restricted to profile pictures or even those using Instagram. But they stopped being cool as soon as people started taking pictures of themselves for the sake of taking pictures of themselves. Selfies are now shoved down our throats wherever we go; carefully posed to look casual and random, when in reality what you’re looking at is usually one picture from a private photoshoot of about 50, with soft lighting and numerous different camera angles to make the subject look as alluring/sexy/cheeky/idiotic as possible.

But the final nail in the coffin, and frankly, the death-knell for any hip trend came in August this year, when ‘selfie’ made it into the Oxford dictionary.

But there’s a bigger problem

My real beef isn’t that selfies aren’t cool any more. Trends come and go, we all accept that. The problem is, this trend doesn’t seem to be going away. Instead it is evolving into a bit of a monster.

By participating in selfie culture, instead of undermining concepts of beauty, we’re now perpetuating the ever-expanding crowd of people who – instead of understanding that selfies are supposed to be tongue in cheek – are promoting self-obsession and rampant narcissism. Missing the point much?

The reason selfies were cool in the first place is because individuals had reclaimed and redefined unrealistic ideals around body image. Selfies weren’t airbrushed to perfection and the now notorious ‘selfie pout’ was intended to mock (not emulate) those of supermodels in fashion magazines. We had started to reclaim the notion of beauty for ourselves and we were reshaping it.

But now, rather than subverting society’s enforced concept of beauty, selfies have become an extension of it. Look at selfies today and see that the irony has been lost. Instead of something which was born of curiosity and necessity and then evolved into something amusing and cultural subversive, selfies now depict people who are instead replacing the emphasis on how other people perceive them (often reintroducing Photoshop) and reinforcing the the concept of beauty that they once stood staunchly against.

Where next?

The selfie has had far more than its fair share of fame and it’s not doing its job any more. It’s time we put it to sleep.

My humble suggestion is this; unless your selfie is still subversive and interesting, for instance, if you’re an elephant or if you’re taking a selfie in outer space, then turn the camera around and take a picture of your breakfast instead, or maybe even go old school and take a picture of a funny sign.

And if that doesn’t sound edgy enough, then why not try ‘Swearing at Beautiful Views’?

You, know, while it’s still cool.


Apple is still innovating… perhaps just not how you’re expecting

28 Jun

Do you know what I’m tired of? I’ll tell you.

I’m tired of seeing advertisements for smartphones that make me feel inadequate.

I’m tired of seeing beautiful people in private member’s clubs, looking no more dishevelled as they pour themselves out of cabs at five in the morning than Kate Moss on a photo shoot.

And I’m really tired of learning that people who own smartphones are always having fun, laughing over upbeat music, as they sit there in their perfect clothes, running around beautiful landscapes, taking photos of all the friends they’ve made because they have the coolest phone on the beach.

Advertising fatigue

These kinds of advertisements are not for consumers like you and me; they’re for a demographic of early smartphone users who have long since disappeared. How do I know? Because we all now own one. And yet, this is still the way we’re being sold to.

Galaxy S4 Group Play Ad

Take for instance the recent Galaxy S4 advert. It shows off the ‘Group Play’ function in a locker room filled with chiselled hunks. They need motivation to win their Basketball game; something I can of course relate to.

HTC One Boom Sound Ad

Or there’s the HTC One Boom Sound advertisement, which demonstrates another feature – frontal speakers that improve the listening experience, because every person who owns a smartphone loves the latest bands.

The problem is, it’s not just hipsters and teenagers who own smartphones now. So isn’t it time to move on from this narrow, under diluted perception of consumer appeal? Smartphones aren’t new any more. And while Samsung and HTC might not get it, with a great sigh of relief, I am pleased to say: Apple gets it.

And now for something a bit different…

Here comes the breath of fresh air.

Thank goodness for that. Thanks Apple.

Until now, smartphone and tablet advertising has focused on the rational ‘you need this feature’ advertising appeal. But Apple’s new approach takes a welcome step away from this. It’s distinctly emotive; arguably a little overdone, yes, but this is new territory, so I think we can cut them some slack. Largely, the iPhone hasn’t changed, but this new marketing approach acknowledges that we, as consumers, have. Who needs product innovation when you have product placement innovation?

Gone is the slick, the modern, the minimalist. Instead, Apple has brought back the clutter, the real world – a girl on her bed, children in a classroom, a woman on the subway – no longer people in glorious, unrealistic and featureless environments. Yes, it retains an element of Apple’s clean advertising, but that’s their brand. Nonetheless, Apple has tapped into the truth that people’s lives aren’t shiny and perfect as they’ve been made out to be. For me, that’s where the emotional connection lies – Apple are acknowledging that they’ve been wrong, while simultaneously asserting that, once again, they’re the first to get it right.

If that’s not enough, then the ethereal, acoustic soundtrack ought to win you over. It’s burnished with naturalism rather than with a cheap, irritating hook (I refer you to the Galaxy S4 advert above). We can suddenly let ourselves feel that Apple understands us… that their new smartphone will blend perfectly into our daily – real – lives.

Innovation in advertising

Despite complaints that Apple is failing to innovate, such as this one by Heidi Moore in the Guardian earlier this year, it is clear that they continue to stay one step ahead of consumer fatigue.

I know what you’re thinking – this is just an ad campaign – and you’re right. It might not seem like a big step. But then consider that this is arguably the first smartphone advertisement of its kind which promises to improve our lifestyle without shoving sexy features down our throats. And it comes from a company that brought us the smartphone in the first place… Does that not count for something?

I predict that this is a benchmark for smartphone advertising. I’m not saying the campaign is perfect, but it’s a start. Apple made a name for itself by doing what others didn’t dare to try, and now they’re doing it again. This ‘feely’ advertising might be sick-making for some, but looking at the bigger picture, it makes a damn refreshing change from the norm.

Made in California. Bring it home, Apple. Good work.

Keep up with all my latest opinions by following me on Twitter, @WillHillier.

Do you disagree? Here’s an alternative perspective.


Did Microsoft know about PRISM?

10 Jun

I’m normally one to leave conspiracy theories to the alien abductees, but this recent ad campaign for Internet Explorer had me a little suspicious:

Though clearly intended to reassure users about the security of their private data, this one seemed a strange step away from the usual ‘features and benefits’ advertising we’re used to seeing from Microsoft.

It jarred. Rather than reassure me, this new campaign drew unnecessary attention to the fact that Microsoft has access to my private data in the first place. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a fact we all live with. But let’s face it; none of us really want to think about it, let alone have it rubbed in our faces by giggling babies and girls studiously doing their homework.

With hindsight, the quote “The lines between public and private may never be perfect” takes on a potentially chilling new meaning. Could it possibly be code for, “We don’t give away your private data to most people, but sometimes we give it to the NSA”?

Though along with Google, Apple and Yahoo, Microsoft has denied all knowledge of the PRISM surveillance programme, I get the feeling they weren’t quite as outraged as they should’ve been, their statement reeking of the standard ‘yep, we spearheaded the WHOLE thing’ denial.

Tut, tut, Microsoft. Tut, tut.

In case you’re interested, here’s their statement (also found on their website):

“We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”

Hmm. Very convincing.

Was this seemingly innocuous, though weirdly unsettling ad campaign a strategic move? From the perspective of the media, yes, whistleblowing is pretty instantaneous. But if watching the X-Files all these years has taught me anything… it’s that when somebody is about to blow the cover on a secret government initiative this far-reaching and controversial; somewhere, somebody important knows the leak is coming well enough in advance to tell the interested parties to cover their backs. And heck, if you’re an interested party, wouldn’t you want to cover you back anyway, I mean, just in case? I know I sure would. So here’s my first ever conspiracy theory… drum roll please:

Microsoft were using this ad campaign to cover their backs (wow, that feels good).

“Your privacy is our priority”. That’s clearly Microsoft’s party-line. Of course you must make up your own mind, but given their wobbly track record with privacy, the fact that they were rumoured to be the first corporation involved in the PRISM programme way back in 2007 and all my woolly circumstantial evidence and wild assumptions, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Microsoft were approached by the National Security Agency to set the blimmin’ thing up in the first place.

Be well and browse safe. Or better yet, just don’t browse. In fact, maybe even try the library? It’s been a while since I set foot in one, but I think they still have paper books in there… Anyway, you get what I’m saying. Look after your privacy.