By Ajibola Adigun for the Austrian Economics Center
When Japanese Hiroshi Ueda invented his telescopic extender stick in 1983 to enable him take shots of himself and his family while they vacationed, holiday snappers did not buy into the device. A reincarnation soon came with Canadian Wayne Fromm’s invention of the Quik Pod to avoid begging strangers for their photographic skills. Two men in different parts of the world wanted to solve an immediate problem. Time and their persistence made their inventions popular. Now we can smile and take selfies. To paraphrase the immortal words of Adam Smith, it is not to the benevolence of photographers that we owe our selfie sticks but from the regard to the self-interest of Messrs Hiroshi Ueda and Wayne Fromm.
It is unlikely that we would have the selfie stick if the invention had been left in the hands of professional photographers. While Hiroshi Ueda worked in the development department of a camera company as an engineer, it was the immediate concern for good holiday pictures for his family that inspired a practical solution.
Photographers love taking pictures but seldom benefit from the proficiency that comes with practicing on others, themselves. In a bid to avoid the tragedy of Narcissus, who came to his end when he fell in love with his image in Greek mythology, artists – often narcissistic in other spheres of their life – are quick to disdain the promotion of the self as art. Not anymore.
Before Lady Gaga, the Kardashians and Kanye West there was Frida Kahol, who made the artist her canvass and turned self-portraiture into a famous art in the 20th century. She famously quipped: “I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there must be someone who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do.”
She certainly wasn’t the only one who felt flawed when people misrepresented her in life, and in pictures. We are all too familiar with holiday pictures taken at wrong angles by reluctant strangers or impromptu tutorials given to friends on how to use the camera. While others saw it as one of the many skills to learn when vacationing, like packing light and straightening creased clothing, the knowledge of engineering stood the inventors in good stead to do something about it instead of learning to sign ‘Can you take a photo?’ in foreign languages.
With the liberalization of information through technology which afforded a Kenyan to win a gold medal at the World Athletic championship from YouTube videos, the twenty-first century is changing the culture of ideas.
Selfies and their prop – the wand of narcissus as some have called the selfie stick – are seen by some as symbols of western decay and a growing narcissism. An obsession with self-adulation and self-centeredness separates the individual from performing the rituals that make for civil society. The ability to make conversation with strangers is lost in the attempts to self-broadcast.
Yet it is the desire to solve practical problems of taking better pictures as the inventors of the selfie sticks did and a penchant to share experiences and moments with our loved ones that sells the selfie stick. While the ritual of asking strangers to take pictures may have been replaced, the conversations on selfies are extended to others who come about our pictures.
The selfie stick is a phenomenon of our time. Just like Youtube and Facebook and Kindle. All created in #InRationalSelfieInterest.