Throughout history we have tried to change our faces with the help of makeup, boxing careers, plastic surgery and special effects.
Who knew that one day our telephones would be the portal to total facial transformation and temporary face swapping, the kind of thing that seemed so cumbersome in that John Travolta/Nic Cage "Face/Off" movie?
Since last year, selfies have entered a decidedly experimental phase with the rise of face filters, also known as face lenses or effects, and they've exploded in popularity along with the social media app "Snapchat." In September, after acquiring the animation app "Looksery," Snapchat unleashed the effects on its users in a big update.
Soon, users were able to use the app to take selfie photos and videos of their heads exploding, their faces transformed into that of a tongue-lashing dog or, more recently, lenses sponsored by Hollwood films like "The Nice Guys" or Taco Bell (ever wanted a giant taco-shell head, dribbling with hot sauce? Snapchat did that for Cinco de Mayo. It was viewed 224 million times.).
What looks like simple fun is actually an impressive bit of technology. The app maps your face and grafts the effects and moves convincingly along with your head in real time. Snapchat has kept its users engaged by changing up some of its lenses every day.
A rival app, "MSQRD" (pronounced "Masquerade") might not be as popular as Snapchat, but its filters are even more impressive and much easier to use. In Snapchat, users must hold down a finger on the screen on their face to activate the lens feature. With MSQRD, the filtering begins as soon as the app starts up and it has a larger variety of effects, from a zombie face to an underwater scuba scene to something both apps do well: incredibly disturbing face swaps.
MSQRD's powerful features have not gone unnoticed. Facebook acquired the company in March and it's a safe bet that the social network will be incorporating face effects into its Messenger app and other parts of its service. (Remember when Facebook bought the virtual-reality company Oculus? It's likely that face swapping and filtering will be part of Facebook's vision of our virtual reality.)
Is face filtering and swapping a tremendous waste of time, a ridiculous diversion for an already too-vain culture? Of course. But that's like complaining about people dressing up for Halloween. Social media and the online world in general is often a means of escape and identity exploration. We transform our insides every day to to express ourselves online; what's wrong with letting our faces have a little fluidity as well?