In 1997, Rugg notes that “it does sometimes occur that individuals make photographs of themselves” (3). The occasional occurrence of what is now referred to as a selfie was duly noted in this text: a minor counterargument briefly mentioned. But in 2015, millions of photos are tagged as “selfies” on social media. We have moved beyond selfies being an occasional photographic practice. But the main difference between the selfies of 1997 and the selfies of today isn’t their frequency, but instead their presentation. A 1997 selfie—printed, held in hand or album—was primarily a private photo, typically accessed by those with personal connections to the subject of the photo. However, the majority of selfies now become public. The presentation of “self” material, whether it be images, texts, or sounds, has been encouraged into the public sphere by use of social media practices, both by the companies who own the social media outlets, as well as the users.
Photography brings a threat to the private self, as noted by the use of cataloguing criminals and those with mental illnesses—people considered dangerous in the nineteenth century when this practice originally arose (Rugg 8). Using photographs to bring private images into the public eye as a method of control is still common today, but it is considerably more common that individuals will publicize their own photographs, rather than any particular governing or controlling body. The users of social media encourage the taking, posting, and commenting of self materials, such as selfies. Social praise is a much more common response to the presence of selfie photos than negative social responses. While there are many who complain about the volume of selfies, it does not alter the fact that the wide majority of those engaged in selfie practices receive public praise, from peers and beyond. But the companies who control these social media outlets also encourage these practices, shifting self-material from private to public. The more publically available these materials are, the more traffic social media sites can receive. More traffic for a website almost always translates into more income. Additionally, some social media sites, such as Facebook, lay claim upon the materials posted using their products, thereby gaining free images to be used publically. So, both users of social media and the social media outlets themselves publicize self-material, shifting the practices of private self-development into the public.