Welcome to Selfie City, population: your face

Say cheese, it’s for academia: Selfie City takes a smart look at selfie stylings from around the world. 


Kate Knibbs


Published Feb 20, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 5:43 pm CDT

Taking selfies isn’t a particularly intellectual pursuit. Turning on that front-facing camera is often used as an example of generational moral decay. Selfies are like Elvis’ swinging hips for Millennials: something that older people can point at as a symbol of the younger crowd’s degenerate attitudes.

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Too bad we’re not actually taking as many selfies as crotchety grandpas and irritable bloggers might assume. According to the researchers behind Selfie City, only 4 percent of Instagram photos are selfies. (No word yet on how many are blurry pictures of brunch.)

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Selfie City, a project by a team of researchers led by Lev Manovich at the Graduate Center at CUNY, compiles selfies from five major cities: Berlin, Bangkok, Moscow, New York, and Sao Paolo. The Selfie City team gathered a random sampling of photos, around 20,000 to 30,000 for each city from Instagram. Then they used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program to winnow the sample down to a collection of selfies, and then manually selected 640 selfies from each city to do a more detailed analysis.


The researchers discovered that each city had its own selfie personality. In every city, women took selfies more frequently than men, with women in Moscow 4.6 times more likely to take a self-snap. But how they were taking the pictures differed the most. In Bangkok and Sao Paulo, smiles were common, but Moscow selfie-takers prefer a more dour look. Maybe that has something to do with the weather, because chilly Berlin was right behind Moscow.

The idea that selfies are not for the Olds was confirmed; in Bangkok, the median selfie age is just 21, and New York was the oldest at just 25. Weirdly, men older than 30 are more likely to post selfies than women of the same age. But women are more likely to do an “extreme” pose.

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Selfie City’s team posted a few essays examining the cultural phenomenon of selfies, and provides an interactive feature called the Selfiexploratory that lets you use Selfie City’s data to compare selfies with shared features, like head tilt angle and perceived mood.

So next time someone gives you a hard time for striking a self-styled pose, just tell them you’re hoping it will end up on Selfie City. You know, for science. 

Photo via Selfie City

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*First Published: Feb 20, 2014, 6:58 pm CST