In Depth

Usies vs selfies: the latest web photo trend

Social bonding or rampant narcissism? Academics argue over the cultural significance of 'usies'

A year after the internet was stricken by selfie-mania, a new picture pose is sweeping through Instagram and Twitter: the usie.

Unlike the trend of 2013, the usie allows multiple people to join in on the photographic fun with group snapshots. But as the phenomenon grows, some are bemoaning the rise of yet another daftly named craze that encourages self-obsession.

So what is the usie all about, and is it a boon for friendship or a sign of rampant societal narcissism?

What is an usie?

According to Business Insider, usie-takers "are of the opinion that two is better than one". The picture, also defined as a 'group selfie', requires a crowd or a couple to take a picture together. One person in the image must also take the role of group photographer, which makes the usie a favourite of romantic partners.

And how is that different from a group photo?

One crucial distinction divides an usie from a more typical group picture: arm positioning. Business Insider reasons that since "one person in the picture has to be taking the photo", usies still contain the "signature outstretched arm" of the selfie and therefore qualify for a label of their own.

However, the usie is not the only genre to rise from the ashes of the selfie. Daily Telegraph columnist Olivia Goldhill reports that at least five other -ie labels have appeared as hashtags on social media. The new words include:

  • Helfie: a selfie of the hair
  • Belfie: a selfie of the derrière
  • Welfie : a work-out selfie
  • Drelfie : a drunken selfie
  • Shelfie : a selfie of your bookshelf
When did usies start getting popular?

Ben Zimmer, a language columnist for The Wall Street Journal, claims that the term has been in use since April 2013, says AP.

And many photos taken during the selfie craze could now retrospectively be called an usie. For example, Pope Francis's pose with young worshippers at the Vatican in August 2013 easily meets the guidelines, as does Ellen DeGeneres' Twitter-crashing celebrity snapshot from the 2014 Oscars.

@KofC epic #selfie #PopeFrancis


— Fabio M. Ragona (@FabioMRagona) August 29, 2013

If only Bradley's arm was longer. Best photo ever. #oscars


— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 3, 2014

Instagram now has a whole page of photographs labelled with the usie hashtag, confirming that the trend has expanded beyond the celebrity world.

How are usies provoking anger?

If "the overblown ego of the selfie dominated our 2013", the usie is another step in the wrong direction, writes Olivia Goldhill, who describes these photos as "endless snapshots of self-obsession". She advocates an end to the online fad, saying that "hashtag trendsetters around the world are clinging onto this verbal trick like late-night stragglers who refuse to accept that the party is over".

The new terminology helps to disguise the true nature of the enterprise, says Oxford Dictionaries editorial director Judy Pearsall. She suggests that the -ie suffix of selfie and usie "helps to turn an essentially narcissistic enterprise into something rather more endearing".

The posting of too many romantic usies on social media can also have negative social effects, cautions Dr Benjamin Le of the University of Haverford in the Daily Mail. "There is some danger in getting too schmoopie about your relationship on Facebook," Le says. "Although your friends will think your relationship is going well, they will like you less."

Could usies actually be a good thing?

Since usies are a more social affair than selfies, some argue that focusing on group subjects for pictures may be better for fostering group connections and relationships.

"Usies are a growing trend that I think have far more social value than selfies," says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, professor of marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. He claims that these photos are "more about the relationship, and less about you and your hair".

"It's magical capturing moments we share with other people," she says.


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