During this past Christmas Holiday week I found myself at Universal Studios in Hollywood, exposed to numerous people taking a selfies with a “selfie stick”. I had no idea this was new fad had originated in Asia but it became apparent when I started to see that most of the people using them were of Asian descent.
The Huffington Post took note of the “monopod” or selfie stick in March with a report from Singapore on its popularity among teens in the East who realized they could take better selfies if the camera was farther away from their bodies: no stretched faces at the edge of the photo from a smartphone’s curved lens, more background in the shot, more people squeezed in, and more ambiguity once the photo is posted about whether it was in fact a selfie or whether the person pictured actually had a friend who wanted to take a photo of him or her. Like an invasive species, the selfie stick fad is spreading, and it’s made its way to the U.S. The sticks which go for $8 to up to $44 haven’t cracked the top 100 in Amazon’s Cell Phone Accessories category, but the stick is popping up …or out… all over the States, and the selfie stick fad has a twin brother fad: taking pictures of people taking pictures with a selfie stick. I guess now Twitter and Instagram are awash in both #selfiestick photos and photos mocking the people who are using them.
I for one believe that the selfie stick is less awkward than asking a stranger to take a photo for you or worse yet asking some to take the photo then have them book with your device and it seems to give you more control of exactly how you want the photo to look.
Some of the selfie-stick-shock photos are taken anonymously by someone pretending to take a selfie in order to capture the person behind them. The selfie-stick-takers on the other hand cannot be incogneto. Their stick is a loud (and proud) declaration of self-portraiture. No covert selfies for them. Putting a smartphone on the end of a stick says, “I’m not ashamed that I want this photo of myself.” Those taking photos of the person holding the stick are saying, “Well, you should be.”
In the cultural battle over whether selfies are self-expressive art worth elevating or digital narcissism taken to new levels of ridiculousness, the selfie-stick is a new battle line. It could be a short lived battle though, prompted by the novelty of the recent import. One day, selfie sticks may be as ubiquitous as selfies themselves; you barely notice anymore when you see someone staring into a smartphone mugging for her own shot, creating her very own self portrait. Perhaps selfie stick shots will happen enough that seeing them will not be strange and so the “twin brother” fad will die. I, for one, kind of dread that day coming.
At least one commentator thinks of the selfie stick as the opposite of narcissism, and instead a gesture of unselfishness. An English tour guide who noticed that his Malaysian customers were increasingly bringing the sticks on his trips said he welcomed them. “No need for contortions or pleas to passers by,” he blogged. People are obsessed with getting photos of themselves in front of various monuments, meaning a big part of his job is to shuffle through cameras taking shot after shot of couples and families posing in front of the Big Ben. For him, the selfie stick is freedom.