The selfie. Do we need to define it? If you like these things, it was the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2013.

Yet it’s hardly new. The first selfie may have been done in 1839 by Robert Cornelius

Robert Cornelius did a selfie in 1839 (sadly without a smartphone) Public domain image from Public Domain Review

But what does the self-image say about us? Is it a pure act of vanity? Is it art? What do these self-representations shared online mean for our individual and collective identity? And are they used for things we do not see?

This week, we look at our selfies.

Start With Goffman

Before diving into the selfie image, we will first discuss the idea of self-representation through a lens of theater, with a reading in class of the intro of Erving Goffman’s sociology book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956):

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life was the first book to treat face-to-face interaction as a subject of sociological study. Goffman treated it as a kind of report in which he frames out the theatrical performance that applies to face-to-face interactions. He believed that when an individual comes in contact with other people, that individual will attempt to control or guide the impression that others might make of him by changing or fixing his or her setting, appearance and manner. At the same time, the person the individual is interacting with is trying to form and obtain information about the individual.

Goffman also believed that all participants in social interactions are engaged in practices to avoid being embarrassed or embarrassing others. This led to Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis. Goffman saw a connection between the kinds of acts that people put on in their daily life and theatrical performances.

Feel free to read along with us, or annotate this PDF version in

Introduction for The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (PDF)

Read this for insight into how these ideas of performance, and theater, play out with the representation of ourselves online… in 2019.

Looking into the Selfie

We will have an in-class discussion of the concept of the selfie and our own experiences/perspectives. Is there more to it than dismissing it as a vain act? Might they be art? What can we learn about human behavior by studying selfies?

What about positive self-images? But also read why Barack Obama stopped providing selfie opportunities“This seems trivial, but it’s not. One of the weird things about being president is I found people were no longer looking me in the eye.”

When does the act go too far? (e.g. funeral selfies, selfies at concentration camps – Yolocaust) . What about the danger? Over 250 people have died taking selfies. And what kind of things might we be feeding data wise when we freely share our young and old images side by side?

What do you think when you see someone else take a selfie? Is it different than when you do your own? How can we represent ourselves in other ways than a literal self-portrait?

For even more to explore, see our collection of resources, readings, and more accumulated from past NetNarr classes.

The Selfie-Unselfie Project

Dr Zamora will provide an overview of the Selfie-Unselfie Project:

Selfies have become the cultural artifacts of our time, a digital mosaic of the diversity of our online lives. And while some say selfies are a mark of a deeply narcissistic culture, others say selfies are a new version of the old idea of the self-portrait. Some understand the selfie as an important means of self-expression and an affirmation of self-love. Selfies have also become a key component of a person’s “personal brand”. Whatever your take on selfie-culture, there is no doubt that the selfie is an icon for our time.

The act of identity construction performed online is at once a private and individual performance. But it is also a communal and public activity. So what layers of our true selves can be shared in a selfie? And what does it even mean to be authentic in digital life today? What does “selfie culture” say about the world we’re living in now? How can thinking about self-representation in the digital age help us make better decisions about sharing parts of ourselves, and even understand one another better?

We will each be doing our version of this project for an assignment this week (see the details and examples in the NetNarr Make Bank). In class, we will be brainstorming ideas for how we will create these representations.

Studio Visit with Alec Couros

Our conversation tonight is with University of Regina Professor of Educational Technology & Media, Alec Couros. Like our previous visits, Alec will share his perspective of the Internet of 2019, and may help us understand the odd phenomena of misidentification known as “catfishing scams”.

Alec Couros  (Feb 26 @6:30pm EDT)

Alec Couros (Feb 26 @6:30pm EDT)

This Studio Visit will be a conversation with Alec Couros, Professor of Educational Technology & Media, Faculty of Education, University of Regina, Canada. This fits in well with the current topic this week of self representation and online identity,...

What to Do This Week

  • Field Guide Review. Use the collection (or your own examples) of articles related to selfies to add one more review post tagged fieldguide that might be of interest when producing a “Field Guide to Surviving the Darkness of the Internet”. In this case, we want you to write it as a fictitious dialogue between two perspectives on selfies. First define your own view- are they silly? art? vain? Deeply significant? This is your own perspective, and this is one “voice”. Now imagine a completely opposite perspective. Create a name for this “other” self by putting your first name through the ROT13 site.As an example – if Alan thinks selfies are the lowest form of vain self-expression, looking at them in disgust, his alternative view comes from Nyna,who will argue that they are an unrespected form of personal art and expression, and provide a realistic representation of our self to others.Write your post as if it were a dialogue between the two views.
  • DDAs. Complete at least two Digital Daily Alchemy activities this week. Make sure you are including both the @netnarr account and the daily specific tag #dda*** in your responses on Twitter.
  • Complete a Self-Unselfie Entry Carefully and thoughtfully compose your pair of images to represent a Selfie paired with an “Unselfie” (read more) and share on your blog as a separate blog post. Besides sharing your images, describe what went into planning the photos, and how the two images both represent yourself in different ways.
  • Weekly Summary What did you learn about self-representation in the digital age (and selfies) this week? Did any of your viewpoints evolve or change? What kinds of connections can you make from the Goffman reading regarding “presentation of self in everyday life” to the current digital selfie trend?

Got GIF?

Selfie Falling GIF by Clara - Find & Share on GIPHY

Featured Image: A remixed cover with #netnarr content of the low resolution cover image of the original The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life from Wikimedia Commons used under the conditions of Fair Use including education and parody superimposed on pixabay image by Wilkernet shared under a Public domain-ish Pixabay license

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Alan Levine feels weird writing about himself in the third person. A 1990s pioneer on the web and early proponent of blogging, he shares his ideas at His interests include web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), mocking MOOCs, daily photography, bending WordPress, and randomly dipping into the infinite river of the internet.

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