Afterthoughts: Stick With Me

To selfie or not to selfie: That is the question.
Photo: Michael Keany

So, I bought a selfie stick. It’s a basic model, telescoping out to a maximum length of 3-1/2-feet, with a big clamp on one end to hold my iPhone, and a pink rubber handle with a shutter-release button on the other.


When my sister Mary saw me with it, the first thing she said was, “You’rrrre cheeeesy.” 


I couldn’t argue with her; in fact, I was kind of thinking the same thing. 


You’ve probably already noticed, but, lately, selfie sticks are everywhere. They’re being waved around by tourists, of course—Waikīkī sidewalks are essentially turning into forests of waving, metallic stick trees—but I’m also seeing them in restaurants, at karaoke parties, on hiking trails, at beach barbecues. It seems like no friendly gathering is complete these days without a big group photo shot by a phone held up in the sky. 


Selfie sticks are becoming so ubiquitous they’ve been banned all over the place, including the Sistine Chapel, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, music festivals Coachella and Lollapalooza, and even Lake Tahoe, where staff are asking people not to shoot selfies that involve them turning their backs on wild bears in the area. (OK, that last one sounds pretty reasonable.)


And when they’re not getting banned, selfie-stick wielders are getting mocking glances from nearby philistines. 


Why the ridicule? Selfie sticks are just simple tools, after all. We don’t make fun of people using tripods, or lens hoods.


I think it comes down to the idea of selfies in general, whether stick-assisted or not. It’s a trend that’s been building for years now, paralleling the rise of smartphones with front-facing cameras, and social media sites Instagram and Facebook. The Oxford Dictionary staff even chose “selfie” as “word of the year” in 2013—putting it in such illustrious company as “vape” and “GIF.”


Narcissism is the main charge that gets leveled. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with having a portrait of yourself, but does everyone really need to see your contortions in front of the bathroom mirror? The 300 almost-identical shots you already have of yourself aren’t enough?


I’ve made a few quips in that vein, I’ll admit. I’ve never been a huge selfie-taker. I don’t hate the sight of myself; it’s just that my photos tend to be focused on whatever’s around me: my friends, my family, cool landmarks. I once managed to spend two weeks in Europe without taking a single photograph of myself. Sometimes people complain that I’m not in my own shots enough, and I make halfway jokes about how it’s not necessary because my presence is implied.


But maybe I’ve been thinking about this whole thing wrong. Because whenever I do post a photo of myself to Instagram, that pic invariably gets way more likes than my normal shots. Like, twice as many. My friends are telling me, over and over, with double screen taps, that they prefer seeing me to pictures of the Eiffel Tower or my lunch. And, despite my jokes, I enjoy seeing pictures of them, too, whether they were shot with the help of a long stick or not. And if those things are both true, then what, exactly, was stopping me?


This was my train of thought when I bought the selfie stick. 


The day the package arrived from Amazon, I brought the stick out to dinner to experiment. After my sister’s reaction, I had to fight a little embarrassment when pulling the stick open and fitting my phone onto it. 


But once we got the whole rig set up, I’ll be damned if it didn’t make for some good photos. I got a shot of my girlfriend and myself that was much easier and more natural than the ones we normally take. And passing the stick around the table to let everyone play with it resulted in a nice, funny collection of pics. Not bad, selfie stick, not bad.


Does this mean I’m going to join the ever-growing Selfie Nation, armed with my phone and my new stick? Anything’s possible, I guess. More likely is that the selfie stick will join the rest of my camera gear, to be used when needed—a tool rather than a lifestyle. Hikes seem like a great time to bring one along, for instance. I’ll just have to stay away from bears (or, more realistically in Hawai‘i, the edges of cliffs).