Analysis of shared images for exhibition at Somerset House compares happiness of selfies taken in London with those from other cities
Londoners take more glum-faced selfies than residents of other world cities, according to a data project.
Analysis of images uploaded publicly on to Instagram in September found that the London style of selfie-taking was one of a restrained upright pose.
Using facial-recognition software and ranking the most happy as 1 and the least as 0, London selfies were found to have a score of 0.55, compared with the average of 0.62 across Berlin, New York, São Paulo, Moscow and Bangkok.
The figures will form part of an exhibition at London’s Somerset House. The show, Big Bang Data, which opens in early December, explores the explosion of social media and asks what it reveals about modern society.
A team of data scientists, designers and researchers collected 152,462 pictures tagged within a 5km sq area around Somerset House over the period of one week, 640 of which were deemed to be selfies.
Moritz Stefaner, a data designer who worked on the project, said analysing selfies had proved they were “very rich” as a data source, both in terms of what they could reveal about different cultures in different cities and illustrating how people wanted to be perceived.
“The sheer number of images we collected, sometimes 300 from a single place in a day, makes you realise how much people are obsessed with documenting everything,” he said. “We are all part of a photo explosion and I think it is really exciting how the world is being documented, in a way that it has never been before, by its inhabitants.”
The pictures used for the project were all taken from the public domain, meaning that anyone who recently took a selfie in the vicinity could walk into the Somerset House exhibition and find their own photo as part of the installation.
“I really hope that someone walks into the show and sees their own selfie in the project” said Stefaner. “A big part of the project is to really bring home to people both what can happen with the data they upload publicly, but also how that can be read, using facial-recognition technology or analysis, and what that can say.”
The analysis found that twice as many women as men are selfie-takers in London. London men who took selfies tended to be older than those in other cities, averaging about 28 years old, and people of both genders favoured an upright pose over a jaunty angle. The average head tilt of a London selfie was just 15 degrees, compared with 20 degrees elsewhere.
Almost double the proportion of people were found to be wearing glasses in London than in the five other cities analysed.
And Londoners’ technique is still lacking, as London-based selfies feature the highest proportion of eyes closed – 28% compared with 20% in the other six cities.
Claire Catterall, director of exhibitions at Somerset House, attributed the unhappy selfie faces of Londoners not to being miserable but “thinking they are too cool to smile”. Despite the seemingly light-hearted nature of the research, Catterall emphasised that there was “a serious point to be made about the amount of data we willingly put into the public domain online”.
She said: “For me, the most interesting thing is the amount of data you can get from posting something like a selfie is what people don’t really understand and don’t really think about it. There can be some quite serious consequences to posting all this data for everybody to see. We are defined by data in a way we have never been before.”
Catterall said the selfie has now become a key piece of data to document an entire generation. She said that by presenting selfies on this public platform as part of an artwork, it would emphasise how the people captured live beyond the private screen of their own phone or Instagram feed.
“What has been fascinating about this project is to see how we all now quantify ourselves through this data we produce, we push ourselves out and how this has changed the way we communicate with each other,” she said.
“The massive rise of the selfie just proves how visual we have become as a society. Even in the past five years it is already impacting on how we speak and communicate with each other on a person-to-person basis – and that can be quite a frightening thing to consider.”
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