For anyone brandishing a selfie stick, the whole world is a photo op, regardless of who and what is around.
Selfie sticks have taken off like wildfire ever since they were first launched in Asia late last summer. Go anywhere remotely touristic and you’ll see hordes of stick-waving, giggling, wide-smiling people putting their heads together for a group shot of nothing much more than their own selves.
Called on one hand “the most controversial gift of 2014” by the New York Times and, on the other, “the greatest invention of 2014” by TIME magazine, the selfie stick is a point of controversy for many. Some call it the “staff of Narcissus” or the rather poetic “solipsistick.” But I think a basic observation can be made and that is that using a selfie stick makes a person look like a dork.
After spending 10 weeks in Brazil this past winter, where selfie photography has become a national passion to rival soccer, I spent my fair share of time watching people make themselves look ridiculous for the sake of a selfie stick shot.
There was the guy in Rio de Janeiro waiting to go up the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car. His gigantic selfie stick kept getting caught in the vinyl ceiling of the waiting area and then inconvenienced other passengers inside the already-cramped cable car.
I’ll never forget the woman at a spectacular northeastern beach who never took her eyes off her extended cell phone, carefully wading into the warm turquoise ocean while holding her selfie stick at the perfect angle. She posed, smiled, angled her head, posed again. Not once did she put down her stick to actually swim in the water. I took a picture of her:
© K Martinko
The selfie stick situation is so bad that Rio’s major samba schools banned them during Carnaval. As one samba school director told O Globo, “Harmony is key for the group. If people stop to take pictures, that means they’re not singing or moving. That can slow down a part of the parade and interfere with spontaneity.”
In New York, some museums have restricted selfie stick use because they’re distracting and annoying to others, writes Sarah Hampson in the Globe and Mail. They have also been banned in football grounds in the U.K.
What disturbs me most is how incredibly narcissistic the selfie stick is. When someone is glued to their cell phone camera and selfie stick, they view the entire world as a potential photo op. They are in hot pursuit of that perfect selfie in which they’ll look fabulous and garner lots of feel-good likes on social media – and they’ll do anything to get it.
Hampson asked a selfie stick salesperson if he feels self-conscious while using it. His response: “Only if you care what people think.” But that, Hampson points out, is the problem: “There are other people in the world besides you.”
The brandishers of selfie sticks cannot truly see what’s going on around them. Recording their own presence at a given moment is a greater priority than making eye contact with locals, staring into the distance, contemplating the history or beauty or cultural differences before their own eyes.
Sure, a selfie stick means a person can snap away without having to ask passersby to take pictures for them. But why is that a bad thing? I’m one of those rare people who still stops strangers for a picture on occasion, and it can lead to interesting, lovely conversations.
My aversion to selfie sticks and the obsessive-compulsive cell phone photography craze has taken me in the opposite direction. Now I usually leave my phone in my bag or pocket, rarely taking it out unless something truly merits a picture. Instead, I try to imprint wonderful scenes, warm moments, and my kids’ funny facial expressions in my mind. In this way I create memories for the future, rather than load down my computer with photos of moments I can’t actually remember or place in context because I was too busy taking a picture so as not to forget them.