Sports grounds, events and Disney World have banned them. Not a week goes by that some news or comment article portrays them as a symbol of a dilettante and over-indulged generation. And the Lonely Planet, one of the most authoritative voices in travel, casts this innocuous piece of plastic – the selfie stick – as evil.
Evil? Are we in danger of losing – that great gift of the selfie stick – a little perspective? James Kay of Lonely Planet equates the use of the selfie stick to, amongst other things, destroying fragile coral in one of the world’s most precious ecosystems, defacing tombstones, and risking death by climbing over safety barriers at Atlantic cliffs.
But Mr Kay seems to have a bit of an issue with tourists full stop – an interesting point of view given the customer base he serves (and Lonely Planet long ago gave up any pretence to serving a more “discerning” traveller – it’s as mass market as Ryanair, and I say that as a fan of both). Regardless of device, it seems to appear in a still image at any major tourist attraction looking happy is to “behave like a halfwit”. Indeed, “wouldn’t it be better to stay at home, invest in some image editing software, and spend the time superimposing your pouting/gurning face on to an exotic background instead? It’d be far, far cheaper; it would expand the number of places you could ‘go’ (without leaving the house); most importantly, it’d be a hell of a relief for the rest of us.”
Instinctively, I sense nothing more or less than travel snobbery at work. The smartphone camera user or GoPro amateur is not worthy of the clear shot at the stadium, the elevated angle that takes in BOTH the traveller and the destination clearly and without obstruction (the horror!). And how dare they share their enjoyment with their friends and family on social media. Tsk tsk.
However (and yes, time to “own up” to owning one), I said I would look at the photos I’ve taken with the selfie stick and see – am I “reducing the travel experience to a box-ticking exercise” as part of a “compulsive quest for a self-mythologising shot in service of social media.”
Well the short answer is: no more than usual! I was actually surprised how few true “selfies” were taken. We took photos of each other, and clearly asked a reasonable number of fellow tourists to take a quick shot. So what selfies did we indulge in?
Those that I did take are – by and large – photos that couldn’t have been taken without the stick or that get their shareability (why else take a photo if it isn’t with the intent to share it in some way or another) from the selfie perspective. Where it would be impractical or improbable to ask anyone else to assist. “Excuse me, would you mind submerging yourself for a few moments the other side of this starfish?” or “could you place yourself in inordinate danger by perching precariously on the back of the truck while we get a good-humoured shot at the end of a day’s ziplining?”
And take the memory of such a day. What represents it more? The group shot who’ve enjoyed each other’s company and the day’s activity courtesy of the stick, or a blurry random shot from one of the towers which would be the extent of most casual snappers’ ranges?
Do people with selfie sticks do stupid and annoying things? Yes, of course they do, sometimes. Substitute any other activity or trait into that question, and you’ll get the same answer. Can they be oblivious to other travellers or to the appeal of what is in front of them? No more or less than any self-indulgent soul that ever lived, even before this plastic peril.
But for the most part what do you see when people take selfies, with or without the stick? They’re smiling, laughing, enjoying life. That’s why most of us travel. That’s why I travel. And the selfie stick is coming with me.