The Selfie Stick And The Game Of Life

One day last August at a popular tourist destination, I noticed as a guy walked around for several minutes with a selfie stick, stopping to click off photos of himself from several different angles with the surrounding mountains in the background. A few days later, I dodged a lady who was walking down a street and didn’t notice me as she focused on the phone screen at the end of her selfie stick.

Lots of people love the selfie stick because it enables them to take higher-quality selfies by extending their reach, and the range of camera angles. Other people hate it. In June, Forbes announced the “selfie stick backlash,” and in July a Vogue writer quoted a co-worker referring to it as “the measuring stick of narcissism.” Whatever your feeling on the selfie stick, it’s definitely a $30 investment in taking photos of yourself, and not being shy about being seen doing it. There are 88,000+ Instagram photos tagged with #selfiestick right now (and 180 million hashtagged #selfie).

We could cynically look at a social media phenomenon like Instagram and say it’s just people over-sharing parts of their daily lives, or that it’s powered completely by our own narcissism. Another way to look at it would be to say it’s a place to share the beauty we see in the world, so what does it say about us when we choose to include—or not include—our heads in a photo?

You could also point out that Jimmy Chin has 344,000 Instagram followers and rarely posts a photo with him in it. And that Kim Kardashian has 19 million Instagram followers and posts almost nothing but photos of herself. And Jimmy Chin is not a bad-looking guy—I might go as far as to say he’s objectively good-looking. But you wonder: if Jimmy Chin took a vacation, ever, and went to a place like, say, Machu Picchu, would he share a photo of Machu Picchu, or a photo of Jimmy Chin standing in front of Machu Picchu?

One of the benefits of having a selfie stick, people say, is that you don’t have to ask a stranger to take your photo—you can just do it yourself. But that also means it’s one more way we can let a smartphone cut down on our interaction with other people, and keeps our focus on ourselves.

People use social media for all sorts of things: We can share important events with family and friends without mass e-mail and dreaded “reply all” responses, communicate ideas that are important to us, share funny jokes and video clips, and as I’ve most recently joyfully discovered, endless streams of photos of golden retrievers. We also sell things, whether we’re using a racy photo to entice people to buy a 5-day cleanse, or maintaining a steady stream of content to promote our personal brand—and I’m definitely one of those people (most of the traffic to this web site comes from Facebook and Twitter). But should we take a step back and ask ourselves, Am I sharing this because I think it makes the world better, or am I just saying Hey World, Look At Me? And is there anything really wrong with just saying Hey World, Look At Me—or is that just what we’re all doing nowadays?

Last April, I spoke at Green Mountain College, and I think I may have learned more from the students than they learned from me. During a question-and-answer session at the end of the evening, one student, Frank, asked if I played The Game of Life. I said I didn’t think I did, and he asked if I wanted to. It will make you a better person, he said, but once you start playing, you’re in for the rest of your life.

I said yes, I would play. Frank went over the rules.

“Every time you say a certain word, no matter where you are, you have to do 10 push-ups,” Frank said. “Do you want to know what the word is?” I said yes.

“The word is ‘mine,’” he said. And then in front of everyone in the Feick Fine Art Center, he dropped and did 10 push-ups.

Maybe The Game of Life is just a goofy thing, a game to play for fun. Or maybe the idea is to help make us aware of when we’re thinking “mine,” “me,” and “look at me” too much. Maybe Frank is onto something.

-Brendan

11 Comments

  • love this post. thanks for sharing! on selfies, it makes me crazy sometimes how folks are so busy taking photos of themselves they’re missing out on the moments in front of them, yet….i use an app called everyday where I take a selfie every single day, and my head is lined up exactly the same way every single time. I love that i can make the slideshow and it shows my face, my changing hair styles and beard and the different places I’ve been over the years. I’ve been doing this for over 2 years now. So…like everything with social media and smartphones, there’s so much good and bad and we are searching for balance, right? Who knows…anyway, thanks for your post!

  • A lot of what social media is now makes me pause. I’m always inclined to say it’s the breeding ground of narcissism, but I know it’s not always as black and white as it seems. On the one hand, like you pointed out, a person who shares their life (selfies included) is simply connecting with friends/families/likeminded strangers. On the other hand, I feel that when a selfie is needed to mark every occasion, even the mundane, we lose the experience of that moment. So, I don’t think selfies are always bad, nor are they always good. And there really are no set rules about what makes it good or not, just what we personally find annoying.

  • I guess I’m blessed with the inability to take good selfies. I also wish I had a dollar for every selfie I see on social media. But I digress. Selfies, personal branding, and whatnot — it seems I loathe it at the same time participate in it. Not sure how to reconcile that. Thought-provoking post!

  • I try not to overthink these things. One could make the same argument about blogging and narcissism. And while I’m not a fan of selfies I do know enough about people and the fragile threads that keep them together that if this makes them happy, by all means go for it. But, this isn’t a new phenomena. Around 15 years ago I attended a ranger talk at Zion that discussed the behavioral patterns of tourists visiting the park. The audience didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended. It was uncomfortably awesome. One observation stuck with me. He noticed that people often drive up to a vista, jump out of the car, take pictures, jump back into the car and drive on without really looking. One woman yelled to her husband to get out of the car and take a look and he yelled back, “I’ll look at the pictures when we get home.”

  • ‘One of the benefits of having a selfie stick, people say, is that you don’t have to ask a stranger to take your photo—you can just do it yourself. But that also means it’s one more way we can let a smartphone cut down on our interaction with other people, and keeps our focus on ourselves.’ – yea I get that. I do make it a point to offer to take others photos, especially if its a couple – nothing like being a couple and only having single photos of each other… but I have found it pretty annoying when someone insisted on taking my photo in return.

    I try to keep the selfies to a minimum, usually they are an attempt to capture myself doing something incredibly brave or stupid, depending on your point of view. But they are always aimed at those people who are sitting on a couch or in a cubicle somewhere in an attempt to let them know there really is a better way.
    See you on the trail.

    • I was going to say the exact same thing. I always ask strangers when i’m on holidays to take a photo for me and since i got the selfie stick it has been awesome! even though it does cut out the social interaction but what i have found is that their is usually a communication barrier depending on where you go. It is a good conversation starter but i personally leave that social stuff at other times. Everyone seems to be doing their own thing when on holidays taking shots and enjoy the scenic views. I’m not a selfie type person but the self sticks has been a big benefit to alot of my friends and myself. For group shots and travel is what i mainly use it for.

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