Londoners look most gloomy & bespectacled, selfie data shows

By Kitty Knowles 1 December 2015

Selfiecity: A new artwork displayed at Somerset House compares Londoner's selfies to those taken around the world. We're not looking so great...

We’re living in the age of the selfie and it’s not looking good, for Londoners anyway.

This week sees the launch of Big Bang Data, a new exhibition at Somerset House that use art to demystify the data world.

One particular piece however, has grabbed the capital’s attention: selfiecity London has analysed our selfies, and we’re looking super gloomy.

How it works

To create selfiecity London, Moritz Stefaner, Lev Manovich and their team of art historians, designers and data scientists collected thousands of Instagram pictures.

A total of 152,462 photos were selected from a 5km sq area around Somerset House over the course of a week, and 640 were selected as self-portraits, or ‘selfies’.

The team then turned these into “rich interactive media visualisations” that can be compared to other cities, including New York, Berlin and Bangkok.

If you recently took a selfie near the Strand, you could well find your mug is featured in the installation…

Read more: Selfies are more deadly than sharks
Read more: Selfie Pope warns of “lonely” social media
Read more: This artwork hacks your phone to expose your embarrassing texts & photos

Looking gloomy

Apparently, we look significantly more glum than our foreign friends. According to facial-recognition software that runs on a scale from 0 (unhappy) to 1 (happy), Londoners have, on average, earned a happiness rating of 0.55.

This is pitifully downcast when compared to the chirpy 0.62 rating reached across Berlin, New York, São Paulo, Moscow and Bangkok.

Dr. Lev Manovich, a Professor at City University of New York and one of the co-creators of selfiecity, told The Memo that we might just be more honest:

“Young Londoners face challenges such as rising property prices and highly competitive job markets: the fact that Londoners are not always jumping for joy is perhaps not so surprising.”

“Yet these are also issues felt in other cities around the world, so it’s interesting to see that Londoners are more honest and they’re not painting an alternate perfect picture on social media, which can often be the case.”

Our unsual selfie style

Not only do we look sad, but our photos are bad, with Londoners most frequently snapping themselves with their eyes shut (28% compared to 20% elsewhere).

There are also twice as many selfie-taking women as men in the capital, but both sexes prefer to strike an unusually upright pose, with an average London head tilt of 15°, compared with 20° abroad.

Our allegiance to hipster specs also appears to have influenced the findings, as twice the proportion of people were found to be wearing glasses in London than in the other five cities.

Read more: MasterCard’s “cool” selfie verification is cringeworthy
Read more: Are you secretly afraid of data?

Read more: Is sharing your pregnancy in social media weird or wonderful?

What does this mean?

Despite what it looks like, not everyone thinks we’re as depressed as we seem. Claire Catterall, director of exhibitions at Somerset House, has said that our unhappy appearances are probably due to people “thinking they are too cool to smile”…. Could it be that we’re just snobs?

As well as giving cultural insights, the project has a more ominous resonance too, she added.

“selfiecity is fun and fascinating, but there’s also a serious point to be made,” Catterall told The Memo.

“Selfies are modern day data and each one of us is endlessly producing data without even realising it. Just like printed photographs though, these digital mementos have to be stored somewhere and we don’t really know how safe they are there. ”

Something to think about next time you take a selfie.

selfiecity London will be on display at Big Bang Data, Somerset House from December 3-February 28