At this point, debating the merits of the selfie, even in the default hashtagged irony of the internet culture class, feels pointless. This is the phenomenon that has subsumed not just our self presentation on the internet, but our president, our movie stars, and our music industry. What the selfie needs now isn't more opinion, but earnest and curious documentation.
That seems to be the idea behind Selfiexploratory, a navigable version of the 3200 randomly-selected and carefully categorized Instagram selfies behind the Selfiecity project. That project used a combination of crowdsourced labor to categorize the photos by age and gender, and computer algorithms to categorize the photos according to facial alignment.
Led by the digital culture maven and computer science professor Lev Manovich, Selfiecity found some key demographic differences between the way different groups take selfies. But the Selfiexploratory lets users narrow down and compare the actual pictures to a pretty incredible degree of specificity.
You start with the full set of 3200 selfies.
Then you narrow it down to, say, men from Bangkok who look really happy.
Or, women older than 32 who live in Berlin. (Yes, this has the potential to be creepy.)
It's true that the photos on Selfiexploratory represent a tiny subset of all of the world's photo self-portraits. Still, it's a fascinating first look at one of the defining cultural trends of the second decade of the 20th century.