Jim Duffy comment: Selfies are the face of a billion-dollar economy

Cosmetic surgey is now commonplace in the experience economy business model, says Duffy. Picture: contributed.
Cosmetic surgey is now commonplace in the experience economy business model, says Duffy. Picture: contributed.
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Imagine being a kid in the sixties, seventies or early eighties – not hard for many of us. A camera was an expensive gift that one perhaps received from Santa Claus at Christmas. Certainly there was the exciting phase when Kodak produced cameras that spewed out little photographs there and then. The flashes on them blinked brightly once, then died forever. But, buying a camera was out of the question for many as the prices were extortionate and the selection was slim. How things have changed.

Cameras are now ten a penny and integrated into every smart phone and tablet. Rather than make photography more accessible as an art form, in the age of the selfie, a far more worrying industry has emerged.

Social media businesses, and we need to start calling these tech companies exactly that, are enabling a whole generation of photographers. These camera enthusiasts are not simply pointing and clicking at the seaside or on top of a mountain. No, these enthusiasts are all about one thing: themselves. “Selfie capitalism” is a billion-dollar business. Companies like Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Facebook have given us the tools to create beautiful images of ourselves. Images that form personas we want to manufacture and imagine that others will enjoy looking at. There have never been as many “duck faces” captured, finessed and uploaded online as today.

In my time as a child I had my photo taken at school once a year, on my birthday and at Christmas. That is the extent of the contents of the box that I keep in the attic. The selfie brigade are at it every minute of the day – when they can. But, like all industries, social sharing has grown up. Whereas a quick selfie was par for the course a few years back, it has come a long way. Sales of selfie sticks have rocketed. A global study anticipates the value of the selfie accessories market will reach $6.4 billion by the year 2025. That’s a lot of selfie sticks. Its current value is $1.9bn. This allows the sharing generation to share while they take the time to look their best. But like all – dare I say – addictions, this is not enough.

In his 1971 book Future Shock, Alvin Toffler wrote that in the future people would spend a large percentage of their income on amazing experiences, to be provided by what he called an “experiential industry”. Toffler’s prediction came true; today we refer to it as the “experience economy”. It has created a seismic shift in the selfie business model where people, in particular young women, feel the need to cosmetically enhance their looks to achieve that desired online persona. UK lipstick sales are booming at £306m, but it is taking even more than make up to give girls that perfect pout as they share their experiences.

Cosmetic surgery is now commonplace in the experience economy business model. The global facial injectables markets is predicted to have annual growth of over 10 per cent between 2017 and 2023. Technology has improved vastly, allowing for minimally invasive surgery or injections for a mere £150. From what my own daughters tell me, this then gets done a couple of times a year to keep the lips looking “hot”. So, this experience economy has landed at my door. I have the wonderful digitally enhanced, filtered photographs to validate my case. And they wonder why they’re skint at the end of the month.

I’m not sure that I would want lip or face injections every year. Going to the dentist is quite enough. But, as the voracious growth in selfies as part of the experience economy grows, the younger generations are bought in. My worry is, where does it end? Technology will constantly improve and the market will innovate and mature. New segments will be added, where human beings will alter their real and true appearance via small surgeries, to give them their desired digital persona.

To find out what is coming next is easy. Just look at the mega-rich celebrity selfie business endorsements and one can see what’s coming down to a beauty salon near you.

- Jim Duffy, MBE, Create Special