A “selfie stick” if you haven’t heard, is something like a monopod and something like a cry for help. These gizmos, used to take photos of oneself and one’s friends (if one has any) at greater than arms-length, are apparently all the rage and mildly controversial. I was blissfully unaware until a recent vacation when I observed numerous tourists using them.
Culture critics and others too cool for selfies have decried the selfie stick as another sign of rampant narcissism and people forsaking real life for life online and refusing to engage with people around them even to ask the small favor of taking a photo. It’s not really clear to me how using a stick makes taking a selfie any more narcissistic than taking one hand-held, though I guess the potential for poking a stranger in the abdomen or knocking over a store display or priceless artifact is somewhat greater. Inflicting random damage while taking your own photo certainly earns you some self-absorption points.
I’ll confess to a bit of analog-photo nostalgia for taking proto-selfies with a tripod and timer or cable release, and also for the momentary bonding with strangers when you get asked to take a photo of them (I used to know how to say “say cheese” in Chinese), or when you ask the same. Maybe phones are considered too personal or too valuable (or too germy) to hand to a random stranger. Maybe people just don’t trust a stranger’s sense of composition anymore. Back in film days, I was tempted more than once to crop out the heads of annoying tourists thrusting their cameras at me, though I almost never did.
My gripes with the selfie stick are more artistic and technical than cultural. On a purely technical level, putting your camera on the end of a stick that you hold most likely at partial or full extension of your own arm is just a bad idea. Any shaking in your hand or arm is just magnified by the stick, making it more likely that you’ll get a less than sharp shot. Plus, even though phones are getting bigger all the time, your ability to really see the composition in a phone screen that’s several feet away seems marginal at best.
Say what you want about the selfie aesthetic, I sort of like the spontaneity and odd geometry of the arms-length shot. It says, “I was here and was having so much fun that I couldn’t be bothered to take a better photo :D” Sure, it would be nice to see more imaginative self-portraits using mirrors, shadows, multiple exposures and other techniques, but those wouldn’t really be “selfies.” Putting the camera on the end of a stick might give a more naturalistic view, but it also makes a selfie just another picture.
Whatever your take, you should enjoy using or complaining about selfie sticks while you can. This time next year, I’ll probably be writing about the clouds of personal drones zipping around people taking photos and video of their masters 24/7.