We track the evolution of the ‘selfie’ from ancient Egypt to Facebook

These days you can’t walk for ten minutes without seeing someone taking a photo of themselves with their own their mobile phone. Ever wondered where the dreaded ‘selfie’ originated from?

Not another selfie talk, you say! I don’t often write responses to other people’s work, but I definitely should. And I would recommend you to do the same. Having contagious and exciting conversations online is what makes the digital world so interesting and unique. 

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You might think that 'selfies' are a 21st phenomenon but it actually dates back to the 15th century

I would like to discuss, ‘The evolution of the selfie, no filter’ piece written by Lyssa Campbell. As both a marketer and a consumer, I find this topic fascinating, amongst many other social media gadgets and tools’ discussion. I carry a selfie stick in my bag. There, I said it! Capturing the evolution of selfies, I didn’t think we had to blame anyone. Yet, when I read Lyssa’s piece it made me wonder.

Let’s dive into a quick history lesson on selfies
The very first ‘selfie’ (or self-portrait) is believed to have been taken in 1893 by an amateur photographer, Robert Cornelius. Today, the Oxford Dictionaries announced their word of the year for 2013 to be ‘selfie’. By the way, in 2014 it was ‘vape’. Guess what’s next?

The first ever selfie
Here is a more curious fact. ‘The selfie’ as we know it, dates back to the 15th century, when artists across Europe – most prolifically the German artist Albrecht Dürer – started creating works in which they themselves were the main subject. Self-promotion? Narcissism? Or a window into the artist’s psyche? Opinions vary.


A woman taking her picture in a mirror in the 1900s

At the turn of the twentieth century, selfies like this one, taken by a woman in 1900, were among millions by amateur photographers all over the world.

Did Robert Cornelius or the Germans start the narcissism? Or were they expressing their curiosity and the desire to create? Opinions vary.

The origins of texting
On December 3rd 1992, a 22 year old Canadian test engineer, sat down and typed a ‘Merry Christmas’ text message which flew over the Vodafone network to a man called Richard Jarvis. Since then, we cannot stop texting whether it is txt-ing, LOL, asap or c u.

In around 1439, Johannes Guntenberg invented the printing press which gave many revolutionists a powerful voice. Thanks to Johannes, in Russia, where I grew up, we had this amazing and uber forbidden newspaper called ‘Zvezda’ (The Star) which challenged the tyrants in power.

Artists, poets, comedians, politicians, writers, women and many other people who shaped the freedom and equality in the country were given the voice which changed many lives. Yes, a little narcissistic here and there but life’s changing!

What if Napoleon was on Facebook?
I am getting to the wondering part of this article, the one I mentioned in the beginning. What I was wondering was. . . if Facebook was invented much earlier, would Napoleon dare to invade Russia, would Hitler get away with murdering millions of people and would USSR have even taken place in our world’s history?

Yes, surely, giving powerful tools to mad people can result in crazy things whether that’s doctors taking selfies with patients or radicalized teenagers murdering fellow students. Giving an automatic gun to an ill person is almost as dangerous as allowing them to have any sort of online presence. On the other hand, do we really need to blame stupid human behaviour on technological progress?

I am not intending to defend or encourage duck faces, #nofilter but I appreciate the beauty of technological development and understand that with all the goodness, a few rotten apples are inevitable.


The infamous 'duck face' is when lips are pouted outwards

“Yes, now you can have your selfie on your coffee. Because for the truly narcissistic, you need yourself on your lips and in your veins, not just on every single piece of technology you can shove onto your person”, says Lyssa, which really excites me as a marketer and as a consumer. I am truly fascinated how early people learn about branding, digital marketing and social media content.

Selfies for good
From little things, big things grow. From a few embarrassing duck face selfies to organ donation charity Live Life Give Life which encouraged people to share face-painted skull selfies to promote the cause and invite people to make donations.

I don’t really want to be free from the sticks, the phones, the pads and other ‘paraphernalia’ but I’d love to see more people embracing technology and utilising it for better causes. By the way, having fun is definitely one of them. What do you think? 

What is your opinion on selfies? Do you love them or hate them? Join our conversation below. . .

Thanks to Anna Kochetkova from Content Queen.