In the span of a little more than one week, we have gone from Los Angeles, to San Diego, to Tucson, to the Grand Canyon, to Zion National Park. And one thing I have seen more than blue punch buggies, more than Walmarts, and even more than McDonalds, are selfie sticks. At some of these popular tourist attractions, it’s a proverbial forest of selfie sticks out there. People with their backs to the monuments they are there to adore, smiling with rehearsed plasticity, staring into the yonder as though someone is looking at them. Admittedly, if I were an alien, I would be confused by the act.
I remember reading an article in which the author opined on how the selfie stick is for a generation of superficial, self-centered narcissists. People who just want to show that they were there with a digital snapshot of a smile, a blowey-kiss, or whatever their “selfie” face is. Shallow people, who only want to see their face in front of something beautiful, instead of staring at that beautiful thing itself.
Now full disclosure: I have a selfie stick, I just don’t use it all that often. I prefer to hold my phone in my hand to take my selfies. Or prop it precariously against a rock, pinch it with two sticks, or wedge it between any objects capable of holding it upright for the time it takes me to capture my “veni, vidi, vici” moment. So believe when I say that it is not out of some form of defensiveness that I am writing this.
It just occurred to me at the Grand Canyon. I witnessed hundreds of people trying to capture themselves on their selfie sticks. And it was when so many of them resorted to asking a stranger for a helping hand that I realized there is nothing inherently narcissistic about the selfie or the stick. Now just to be clear: I am not talking about people taking selfies at funerals, solemn commemorative events, or other events where it is just as inappropriate to take a selfie as it would be to take a smiling group photo. When I talk about a selfie, I am simply talking about a picture of oneself at a location or event where one wants to remember having been, and share with others.
The selfie stick is no more a symbol of narcissism than is the tripod, the countdown timer on a camera, or the friendly request for a stranger to take your picture. People have been taking “selfies” since humans could draw on the walls of caves. The selfie is nothing more than a bastardized self-portrait, aided only by human and technological innovation. And far from being narcissistic, it is quite the opposite: The selfie is fundamentally a matter of people wanting to share a moment that is important or meaningful to them with their friends and family.
We no longer live in an era where we have to ask strangers to take our picture, wondering the whole time if they are going to run off with our camera (although we still do that from time to time). We no longer live in an era where we have to invite friends and family over the holiday slideshow (as if anyone, ever, anywhere in the world has enjoyed going to one of those). We have the selfie, the selfie stick, and social media to share our life experience. And presumably, if you are on social media, it is because you too want to share your experiences with others, and share in the experiences of others.
We are no more of a narcissistic generation than any generation that came before us. We just have the technological means to facilitate what humans have been doing for ages: Sharing their life experiences with anyone who is interested, and even with those who are not. So for anyone who thinks the selfie stick is the narcissist’s trophy, I say only this: Honi soit qui mal y pense. And look at my smiley face! 😉