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#Selfie v. Privacy: Words of the Year for 2013 Define Who We Are

by Chad Peace, published
Oxford, the old trusted dictionary. Serious name. Serious history. Serious definitions. Even the name “Oxford” conveys a sense of hoity-toity and a smart-alek with thick glasses and a sponge for a brain.

Their word of the year: #Selfie

#Selfie is defined by Oxford as: a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website

It is a portrait we put on our Facebook page to show everyone how great we look and how awesome our life is. We use it to tell an ex that we’re fine. We use it so our Instagram followers don’t know the hard times, the anxiety, the stress, and the insecurities of who we really are. #NoFilter is an ironic term.

To be sure, #Seflies are an important part of society. Neither bad nor good without context, #Selfies help define the identity of a new generation.

They are a modern-day Postcard and Make-up Kit.

Contrast with Who are they? Some Johnny come 1990s still making good on the “hey I got a sweet domain name” craze and the ‘hehe’ blip-blab that often accompanies words like #Selfie.

Their word of the Year? Privacy.

And defines privacy as:

1. the state of being private; retirement or seclusion. 2. the state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one's private life or affairs: the right toprivacy;  3. secrecy. 4. Archaic. a private place.

Privacy is an esoteric term. As you can see above, it’s difficult to define without using the term itself in the definition.

So why would privacy be a word of the year?

In a world of mass data collection by everyone from Google to your grocery store, every #Selfie you take has an unlimited audience. And text messages you send? The government has a "collect and don’t delete" policy.

Privacy is important to us because it is not only a reflection of the things we share, including #selfies, but the things we keep to ourselves.

We share information about ourselves differently with our parents than our children, with our friends than our lovers, with our doctors and our best friends.

So what happens when our world moves closer to a society where everyone knows everything about everybody? When a conversation is automatically shared with others? What happens when information is ubiquitous?

Will the extent of our privacy be defined by a #selfie?

To be sure, privacy is an old word with a new perspective. Neither bad nor good without context, privacy will always define who we are.


From PRISM and the Edward Snowden scandal to the arrival of Google Glass, 2013 was the year that the desire to be seen and heard was turned on its head. Consider the following: In January, the TSA scrapped airport body scanners that produce near-naked images of travelers; In June, Edward Snowden revealed the widespread global-spying program, Project PRISM; In October, Google announced new privacy policy plans that allow the company to incorporate user data into advertisements. The discussion of privacy – what it is and what it isn’t – embodies the preeminent concerns of 2013. For this reason, privacy is’s Word of the Year.

From the Oxford Dictionary:

The term’s early origins seem to lie in social media and photosharing sites like Flickr and MySpace. But usage of it didn’t become widespread until the second decade of this century and it has only entered really common use in the past year or so. Self-portraits are nothing new – people have been producing them for centuries, with the medium and publication format changing. Oil on canvas gave way to celluloid, which in turn gave way to photographic film and digital media. As the process became snappier (pun intended) so has the name. And now as smartphones have become de rigueur for most, rather than just for techies, the technology has ensured that selfies are both easier to produce and to share, not least by the inclusion of a button which means you don’t need a nearby mirror. It seems likely that this will have contributed at least in part to its increased usage. By 2012, selfie was commonly being used in mainstream media sources and this has been rising ever since.

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