Raise your cellphone if you have taken one in a mirror.

Stand up if you know what "duckface" is.

Admit it if you've changed your clothes, fussed with lighting, hunted for the perfect background or took multiple versions just to get the right one.

The selfie is the way we see ourselves today, the ubiquitous self-portrait snapped with an outstretched arm holding a cellphone and then posted on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram.

The selfie is red-hot at the moment, the 2013 Oxford dictionary word of the year, the Ellen DeGeneres photo that defined this year's Oscars, the phenomenon that has featured both the pope and President Obama, who has been featured in recent highly publicized selfies with David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox and world leaders at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

It's a word that has launched other movements: the shelfie (a photo of interesting objects on a shelf), the groupie (a selfie with friends) and the Baby Selfie (a cellphone app that shows cute drawings and sounds and then snaps a photo when a child touches the screen).

What do selfies say about the way we live our lives in 2014?

"It's a digital, visual way of saying what you are up to, in today's society," said Stacey Irwin, associate professor in the communication and theater department at Millersville University. "It's a fun, fast way to share with people in our fast-paced life."

It's the way an entire generation shows itself to the world, Irwin said.

Narcissism run amok?

Or just self-expression?

Have you heard the song "#SELFIE," one of the most downloaded songs on iTunes at the moment?

"Can you guys help me pick a filter?

I don't know if I should go with XX Pro or Valencia

I wanna look tan

What should my caption be?

I want it to be clever ...

I only got 10 likes in the last 5 minutes

Do you think I should take it down?


Selfies are an outgrowth of a world where advertising is everywhere and everything in the world, including people, are marketed, Irwin said.

"The media world around young people facilitated the selfie," she said. "It's a cultural phenomenon. It's the way they know to share. It's the society they've grown up in."

Carol Auster, a sociology professor at Franklin & Marshall College, said the selfie has to do with both humanity and technology.

About the humanity: We have always wanted to document and share what we are doing with others, Auster said. In the past, we used scrapbooks, vacation photos, our slides from the Grand Canyon and wedding album to do that.

About the technology: Taking a photo of yourself has become extremely easy. Instead of using a camera with film that took images you could not see until you had them developed and printed and got them back from the drugstore, today's cellphone cameras  allow us to point, shoot, view, edit and share a photo with thousands, often within a minutes, Auster noted.

The process is more natural to digital natives, those who grew up with technology, Auster said.

A recent survey done by the Pew Research Center bears that out.

The survey found that 55 percent of millenials, those born between 1977 and 1992, have posted a selfie on social media. In contrast, only six in 10 Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, even knew what a selfie is.

The selfie has evolved over the short time it has been an integral part of our culture.

Bartender David Lucena, 24, of Lancaster, remembers the first self-conscious selfie he took, back when he was in high school.

"I took my mom's bulky camera into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror, taking picture after picture," he said, laughing. "You look back and you can see the trash can in the background.  It looks ridiculous. It's actually kind of hilarious."

Today, his selfies are both more thoughtful and more spontaneous, and vary due to the occasion. He goes for a simple, more reflective image when he is alone and a more in-the-moment lively, distinctive photo when he is out with friends.

"Everyone is tweeting every 30 minutes, every 40 minutes," he said. "You see a lot of selfies with other people when it comes to instant social media. It's what we are doing right now."

We recently took a cellphone into downtown Lancaster, asking a wide range of people to take selfies with it, and we got an immediate feel for what the selfie represents.

We handed the phone to three twentysomethings at Tellus360, a pub and music venue at 24 E. King St.: Mairtin Lally, Tellus general manager, and Kyle Ober and Cullen Farrell, founders of a juice company called rijuice that is housed at Tellus360.

The three put their arms around each other and quickly took a photo, laughing like crazy and making mock "duckfaces," the pouty-face commonly made by women taking their own photos.

For those closer to middle age, such as  three lively women who work behind the counter at Spring Glen Foods at Central Market, it's not quite as natural a process. The two Ruthies (Houser and Harnish) and Cindy High were game but had to figure out how to use the cellphone first, taking photos of somebody's thumb before they got it right.

But everyone we asked to snap a selfie (except for a certain silver-haired judge who politely but firmly declined to participate) quickly warmed to the task, often laughing or smiling broadly into the cellphone, willing to show their face to the world.

Barry Gaffney, 49, of Lancaster, who just bought a fishing rod posed proudly with it in Penn Square. A normally somewhat somber Renato Carboni, 58, of Lancaster, took off his glasses and grinned into the camera, taking a break from serving lunch at My Place Pizza on North Queen Street.

Cinematographer Mary Haverstick spends her days looking through a camera at others as a partner in Haverstick Films in Lancaster.

Haverstick said it can be powerful when people point the camera back at themselves.

Sure, she said,  "There is a danger of going down the narcissism path with it. You can really overdo the selfie."

But if you are going to be active on social media, she said, "You might as well share something about yourself.

"A good portrait does that. It captures a little bit of a person's soul.

"There's no scary photographer there. No big lens. Just you and your cellphone. You can reveal a little bit of your personality, and that can be magic."

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Cindy Stauffer is a Lancaster Newspapers staff writer. She can be reached at cstauffer@lnpnews.com or (717) 481-6024. You can also follow @cindystauffer on Twitter.