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Unselfies, Glitch Selfies, and Shelfies: What Does the Post-Selfie Selfie Look Like?

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech

A recently released app, called SLMMSK, has been described as an explicitly “anti-selfie” tool. Like the selfie-rich Instagram, SLMMSK is a photography app, complete with filters. Unlike Instagram, SLMMSK’s “filters” don’t enhance the photo; rather, they are all intended to obscure the selfie-maker’s image: through extreme pixelation, by replacing it with a ridiculous emoji, or with other options in between.

Abstract selfie

While a bit extreme, the app actually taps into a broader trend of subverting, questioning, or just having fun with, the whole selfie idea. For many artists, developers, and tinkerers, we have entered the age of the post-selfie selfie.

Yes, the post-selfie selfie: a self-portrait that somehow plays with, jokes about, undermines, or contradicts the usual purpose of the selfie.

A selfie is supposed to be a recognizable, generally flattering, self-portrait. And let’s just face it: The selfie is not going away; it is a worldwide trend, as the recent international data project Selfie City showed

The post-selfie selfie acknowledges all of this and, one way or another, breaks some cardinal rule of the form.

Turns out, for instance, that there’s a whole Tumblr devoted to “glitch selfies,” which involve self-portrait-makers blotting out or mangling their images with various technical effects.

Abstract selfie


With another recent Web-based tool, Gush, “you can turn your lovely smiling face into a spectrum-skewing glitch image at the click of a button.”

And another app, Matter, is designed to let people “seamlessly insert digital objects into photos,” as Creators Project put it. The upshot: the surrealization of selfies.

Abstract selfie

(Creators Project)

Perhaps we can think of “usies” as a less aggressively image-destroying variation on the post-selfie selfie. An “usie” — pronounced like the pronoun “us,” followed by a long E — simply refers to a group photo taken with the front-facing camera on a device. The point isn’t to wreck a self-portrait, but to shift from “me” to “we” in the portrait process. (OK, maybe we can debate whether that’s a selfie-questioning maneuver or just a multiplication of selfie-ness. But still.)

Teens taking a selfie with the pope

(Reuters/L’Osservatore Roman via Business Insider)

Arguably, the deep history of post-selfie possibilities stretches all the way back to … last year. In connection with a social-media charitable-giving effort, people were encouraged to take “unselfies” — obscuring their faces with signs humblebragging about their donations to causes they support.


Montage of people with unselfies

Other post-selfie selfies completely eliminate the individual’s image. But are they still kinda, you know, self-centered? For example: the “shelfie.” Instead of publicizing your mug, you “share” an image of a collection of meaningful objects, possibly on a shelf. (It may or may not include a mug.) Like so

Shelfie featured on Instagram

A shelfie. (huntseek on Instagram)

And here, so far as I’ve seen, is the outer limit of post-selfieness: The “data selfie.” An app devised by “data artist” Laurie Frick, recently funded on Kickstarter, promises to generate a completely abstract (but aesthetically engaging) image based on … you. Basically, it is designed to create unique images derived from your personal data — generated through your daily movements tracked on your phone, for instance.

“Self-tracking data,” the pitch promises, “will be the ultimate ‘selfie.’ ”

Laurie Frick's data selfies

(FRICKbits Kickstarter page

Actually, that’s an interesting thought: Maybe the ultimate post-selfie is an image that does not resemble any face at all — let alone yours.

While these are disparate projects and efforts, consider them together and maybe there’s a bigger picture emerging. No, we can’t make selfies go away. But now that the form is basically a cultural given, maybe we’re finding new ways to respond to, and redefine, what a “selfie” can mean.

Sure, people have complained about smartphone-enabled narcissism for years. But maybe the post-selfie selfie can do something surprising: redeem it.

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. RSS lover? Paste this URL into your reader of choice: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/author/rob-walker/rss.