Selfie Awareness: Can Mobile Tech Help Us Understand the Aging?

Selfie awareness is one of the pop culture phenominums. As we swing into the meat of the second decade of the 21st century, rapidly approaching years that science-fiction writers of earlier eras regarded as the impossibly far-flung future, some trends are solidifying. Mobile technology is obviously the dominant form of personal technology, with wearable tech and the internet of things rapidly gaining ground (these three will all be connected). We are also excelling at using nanotechnology to further understand the world in which we live, and using its groundbreaking nature to cure diseases and contribute to clean water efforts. Our technology is changing our lives and our art, but as we round into 2015, one trend dominates over all: selfies.

You can say that they are the ultimate in self-expression, creating a new form of art, a personalized look at ourselves in our environment. You can say that they are nothing but the pinnacle of narcissism, the need to impute ourselves anywhere, and the idea that no good landscape can’t be improved by poorly-framed closeups of preening teens. But no matter how you look at at – and the truth is, as it sometimes will be, somewhere in between – selfie awareness is an important part of our culture. They also might be able to extend your life.

selfie awareness & mobile tech (Wiki)
Selfies awareness can help us understand how people age.
Image source: Helgi Halldórsson via Wikimedia Commons

Understanding aging through the face

It’s obvious to point out what selfies are – pictures of yourself. Underlying that simple truth is the accepted notion that there are probably more pictures of you doing absolutely nothing that there have been of all your ancestors, combined, in total. A portrait used to mean something. Family photos were an occasion. Obviously, the accessibility of cameras, especially portable and disposable ones, the mass-marketing of developing, and finally digital cameras, meant that the number of photos taken snowballed through the years, but it is only in the last decade that it has really avalanched. So your face has been captured in all its glad grace, and otherwise.

Scientists are beginning to use this, proving once again that even that which seems silly can be useful. Professors at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and at University of North Carolina, Wilmington, have developed a site on which you can upload your selfie and it will tell you when you’re going to die.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not by terribly much. The site, called Face My Age, uses your photo, along with a lot of data, to not just estimate how old you are, but how you are going to age, and an estimated lifespan. It looks at things like crow’s feet, sagging, jowls, tightness, wrinkles, smoothness, etc., to see how you are aging. For instance, if you are 35, but it estimates that you are 45, you are aging more quickly than you should.

What we can do with this

Face My Age isn’t a curse, nor a crystal ball. It doesn’t tell you the date of your death, how it will come to pass, or anything like that. It doesn’t have a direct line with Ol’ Scratch himself. It is also, of course, imperfect, and can be wrong. That doesn’t mean it lacks implications for the insurance industry, but on a personal level, it can be enormously helpful.

We all tend to think of ourselves as healthy until something goes very wrong. It’s rare to really look at ourselves – despite the enormous amounts of photographs we take. This site really does look at us, with eyes neither rose-tinted nor jaundiced. It says, “Hey – you’d better take care of yourself the only way that really works: eat better, exercise, sleep more, stop smoking.” And yes, we already know all this, but it is far more stark when you are literally aged by a computer, to see yourself not as you are, but as you might become.

This sounds grim, but it is really remarkable. Not only has Face My Age helped people as individuals, but the amount of people signing up for it has provided a remarkable data base that is helping scientists understand the aging process, which really is the most important, or at least the most purely inevitable, process in our lives. After all, even snake-oils and tinctures that promise to “slow down aging” don’t mean that literally – they just want to mask the effects.

But understanding the effects are the best way to really help mitigate against the tremendous damage done to all of us by the process of time, and that’s exciting. And it is remarkable that it is being helped immeasurably by what can be seen as the silliest, least-useful, most indulgent part of our remarkable mobile technology culture: the never-quite-humble selfie. So take a picture of yourself. It turns out it could be the most healthy thing you ever do.

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