What is a selfie stick? A love letter to tech that gets a bad rap.
While taking a day trip to Cold Springs, NY to get in my first hike of the spring season after being cooped up next to the heat-pole in my NYC apartment all winter, I ran into my very fist selfie stick. I saw a girl walking the opposite direction down the path winding between some depressed looking beech trees, carrying what I assumed to be a fancy aluminum walking stick. As our groups neared one another I realized that the metallic looking switch was nowhere near long enough to use to support one’s strides down a mountain, but was in fact the girl’s selfie stick. It was actually the first one I’d noted in public. A selfie stick. Making an appearance during my long-awaited re-introduction to mother nature. She may as well have been trying to set the brush on fire. “How could you come all the way out here to look at the world around you, and instead, take all the opportunities to look at yourself?” My friends and I then proceeded to take at least 100 group selfies (groupies?) at the top of the mountain to let the gays back home know that we’d chosen to explore the outer world instead of going to brunch that day.
I refused to give the selfie stick the time of day. Appropriately nicknamed ‘the wand of narcissus’ or the ‘narcisstick’, the tech tool seemed to me like that peripheral friend that spoke too loudly or farted in public – I just didn’t want to be associated with it.
So, what is a selfie stick? It’s an extendable rod with a hand grip that has an attachment on the opposite end for your smartphone, so you’re able to take photos of yourself or your crew that show you off at an appropriate distance, at the appropriate angle . A veteran selfie-sticker can make it look like a third party took the photo.
The stick was awarded one of the top 25 inventions by Time last year, however a distant ancestor of the tool was actually introduced to our culture way back in the early 80s, the Minolta Disc-7, which also featured a grip and rod that connected to the end of your camera, and allowed the viewfinder to be pivoted towards your smiling (or brooding) face.
The camera even provided a mirror to perfect your duck-lips. Ooh la.
— Gavin (@Gavoth) June 27, 2014
A useful tool – and pretty much the same idea if you were to swap your iPhone out for that old-timey camera. However, only one of these tools would sell well in Brooklyn.
The original selfie-stick didn’t stick. Maybe the cultural temperature wasn’t quite right for the idea. We weren’t even close to inventing the term selfie yet (at that point they were still referred to terminologically as “self-portraits,” how high-brow.)
Now, selfie culture has become an everyday way of self-expression. Whether its detrimental to society or not – selfish, narcissistic, inevitable, seductive and self-affirming, is all up for debate. But it the selfie seems to be here to stay, and every forthcoming generation seems to be more and more ok with living their life in public, and selfies are a big part of this.
Look at Kim Kardashian, she’s producing an entire book of her personal selfies called “SELFISH,” guaranteed to make it to a coffee table near you (ironically, or not.) I’ve been guilty of a few selfies in my Instagram/Social media adventures, more as a way of sticking my toe in the water to see how it felt – but in general have decided that a desire to overproduce selfie content – for me – felt like an attempt caulk-up the cracks in my ego with “likes.” Who is this photo for? How many photos of me do I need me to look at? How many photos of me do other people really need to look at? It stresses me out.
So – the selfie stick, in turn, seemed be an extension of the same need that the selfie provides for.
Trevor, meet selfie stick.
Flash forward a few months later: I’m vacationing in Miami with my college buddies and one of them brings their younger brother and his new girlfriend – a sexy, sassy millennial who has zero neuroticism, or narcissism, tied up in her social media presence and, low and behold, this one brought with her a selfie stick.
Selfie stick went with us most places we went, though my nose stayed turned to it for the first day and a half. It wasn’t until a waiter – who didn’t speak english and seemed like a character out of a Disney movie – served us free tequila (“boom-boom”) shots that I decided I’d formally shake hands with selfie stick.
It didn’t feel so bad. I was a novice, so I set a timer on my phone rather than connecting my iPhone to the button on the handle. I went for a bird’s eye-selfie. Not bad, but then in the next moment my phone got knocked to the floor in a near-shatter moment. A shaky intro.
Over the course of the weekend I began to warm up to the idea of the selfie stick. But they weren’t for selfies, they were for “groupies.” We took an epic picture on the beach that allowed everyone to be in the photo – at a safe distance – without making us feel awkwardly indebted to some stranger for taking the picture. The photos looked great, and people weren’t using me for my extend-o arms, and I wasn’t fumbling around with the volume buttons while smearing the photo with my fingers.
Couldn’t love this photo more. It was the best one of the vacation thanks to the selfie stick.
While this turnaround on such a simple piece of technology may seem minuscule, it reminded me of one important thing: I will not always agree with the effect of technological advancements or their cultural influences – some tech downright terrifies me (get ready for a future of pet-drones that follow your friends around taking all-arial selfies) – but the tech itself is still in existence to be used and benefitted from. That’s why it was created.
The selfie stick isn’t aware of its cultural implications, and it can be used effectively at a safe distance from them. Using one doesn’t mean I think I’m the next Kim K., or that I’m selfie-ish, just like your Facebook doesn’t necessarily have to be a veil for all things you’re actually afraid to share with the world. They’re only tools. How we use them to represent ourselves is entirely different, and entirely under our control. Narcissistic, self-affirming, whatever – just to take a damn picture.
If the selfie stick seems completely narcissistic to you, this is why you’re wrong…