Apodaca: Selfie death knell sounds at Oscars

When Ellen DeGeneres staged a group selfie with Hollywood stars at the Academy Awards last week, it was widely heralded as a watershed moment.

DeGeneres proudly announced that Twitter had momentarily crashed due to a record number of retweets of the image. The frenzied media coverage of the stunt ran from over-the-top praise for its brilliant melding of stodgy Old Hollywood with cutting-edge New Media to consternation over its calculated silliness.

Either way, the general conclusion was that it marked a huge evolutionary step in our increasingly connected social-media world.

But I've been around long enough to be skeptical of such hyped-up claims. Indeed, I'm reminded of a talented journalist I worked alongside decades ago who often promulgated his theory that once a supposed game-changing trend or Important Development — good or bad — had reached the point of widespread acknowledgment and acceptance, its moment was already over.

So let me be the first to declare that the selfie is now officially old news. (Actually, I don't really know if I'm the first, but let's just pretend.)

Don't get me wrong, DeGeneres' group selfie will continue to be dissected, discussed, disseminated and imitated ad nauseam. Many others will be inspired to — as Meryl Streep was heard saying — stage their first selfie. For the foreseeable future, it will be selfie, selfie, selfie, everywhere, all the time.

But this saturation of selfies will also signify that these photos won't be as cool or edgy as they once were. Young people, the ultimate arbiters of pop culture, will roll their eyes at their parents' selfies and move on to the next outlet for obsessive naval-gazing. Selfies have gone mainstream, and that means that something else is already the new selfie. People my age just haven't heard about it yet.

I had an inkling that this was the case late last year when that venerable guardian of the English language, Oxford Dictionaries, announced "selfie" as the international Word of the Year. My suspicions grew in the aftermath, as What-Is-the-World-Coming-To alarms were raised.

Then, just as traditional media outlets offered up serious-minded commentaries about whether selfies reflected a growing narcissism among our youth, many of us oldsters were beginning to indulge in our own selfie-taking opportunities. One was President Obama, who famously posed in a selfie with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron during Nelson Mandela's memorial service in December.

If that didn't take the hip subversiveness out of selfies, DeGeneres certainly sealed the deal.

I put my theory to Corona del Mar-based psychologist Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, who studies the effects of social media and technology.

Not surprisingly, Rutledge's views were far more nuanced, and based on actual research.

"Selfies aren't going to go away," she said. "They're completely changing how we view portraiture."

But we will see kids pushing the envelope in other ways, she said. They'll experiment with new apps to manipulate their selfies in fresh and unexpected ways, and look for other tech-driven means to express themselves and communicate with their friends. For example, she said, one app that's popular among young people is Vine, which allows users to create and share six-second videos.

Kids "will be doing whatever is a richer form of communication, and whatever their parents aren't doing," Rutledge said. "If it's new, it's interesting. If they see it all the time, they look for something new. They're going to be out there exploring."

Selfies aren't the first, nor will they be the last, technology-driven trend destined to lose its shiny new hipness.

I know this because I am the perfect test subject for determining whether a trend is past its prime. Once I start doing something, it officially becomes uncool. Just ask my sons.

Case in point: For years I was reluctant to join the Facebook craze out of fear of being contacted by obscure relatives and people who know embarrassing stuff about me from high school. It also required some level of activity, and I'm basically pretty lazy.

But as both my sons began spending more time away from home, I finally relented, thinking it would be a good way to keep in touch with whatever was going on in their lives.

Guess what happened. No sooner did I start a Facebook account than my younger, college student son told me he really didn't use Facebook much anymore, nor did most of his friends. They were more into other social media such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and by now probably something else entirely.

As for my Facebook page, I am now "friends" with a whole lot of third cousins twice removed.

So when DeGeneres, Twitter, phone company Samsung, Oscars organizers, and anybody else remotely involved with last week's star-studded selfie brag about making history, I can only agree. They made the cutting-edge cool factor that selfies once had history.

I think I'll commemorate the moment by taking a photo of myself looking bemused.

PATRICE APODACA is a former Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She lives in Newport Beach.

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