I have spent the past week and a half traveling through Europe with limited to no wi-fi, resulting in an equally lacking connection with my digital media. I am behind on my podcasts, behind on my vlogs, and very much behind on True Detective. But it has been pretty wonderful to unplug. I have Instagrammed a bit, but for the most part, I prefer to put my electronics away and just enjoy the moments as I move through them. The memory is the greatest camera, but it only works well if you exercise it. In any case, when you are witnessing the incredible panoramic beauty of the Alps, no technology can fully replicate what our eyes capture. I always start my trips with the intention to document everything and quickly give up when I realize none of my photos or videos do anything justice.
But that’s not how most tourists roll. This has been my first vacation encountering the ubiquitous and utterly obnoxious selfie stick.
I am not amused. The selfie stick embodies the height of our culture’s commitment to experiences for the sake of status, rather than experiences for the experience itself. The notion of an image which places our face alongside a natural wonder or work of art is profoundly narcissistic, shifting the experience from that of our own gaze upon beauty to the gaze of our community in which we place ourselves within the frame of admiration. We shift from a position of giving respect to history or art or nature to a position of demanding respect for our own proximity to something famous that we only cursorily observed. We have lost the ability to see and stand in awe. We have, in a sense, gamified the universe, turning our travels into point-gathering expeditions, where we might level up depending on the number of cool places we can check off our list. Gotta catch em all.
As I write this semi-rant, I must admit that I am equally guilty of a similar mentality so I implicate myself. This type of image-taking is a consumeristic sickness, a plague of social networks. There is a compulsion to participate in this global popularity system of show and tell. The very nature of networks like Facebook and Instagram is predicated on this expectation. So what then? Can we ever pull away from such narcissism but maintain apps like Instagram? Is there a future of our online selves that could minimize the temptation of consumeristic self-display? I suspect these sites came into their being as a response to the already existent materialistic obsession in our society, so if our society changed, I’m not sure they would survive also.
That’s a fair amount of speculation, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are selfie sticks inherently selfish? Can we utilize our social networks without narcissism? Is there any chance our society will break free from its consumerism, and if so, how will social networks change?
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