The pre-viral selfie stick

This might well be the first, and possibly only, time in my life when I’ll be able to claim that I was once ahead of the times… or, at least, ahead of what’s trending online.

SelfieStick1995JapanA series of pictures popped up on Twitter a few days ago and, apparently, ‘went viral’. The pictures appear to be of a brochure for a product, developed in Japan in 1995, called the Self-Portrait Camera Stick. Apparently it was largely dismissed at the time as being a bit pointless and nobody ever heard of it again, if indeed they’d ever heard of it in the first place. I’m certain I’d never heard of the 1995 Self-Portrait Camera Stick until today, though I find its dismissal difficult to fathom. I can clearly recall many a time in the pre-smartphone digital camera age (to say nothing of the Kodak Disposable Camera age) when I really could’ve done without the awkwardness and potential loss involved in handing an expensive camera to a complete stranger, before striking the requisite pose and hoping with every fibre of your being that you wouldn’t have to ask them to take the photo again. Most often over the years I forewent both the awkwardness and the potential for myself and my absurdly expensive camera to involuntarily part company. That meant that I ended up with thousands of photos so utterly bereft of human life – or any that was personally known to me at least – that they might just as well have been emblazoned with “Greetings from <name of holiday destination>!”.

Last year I embarked on an utterly self-indulgent six-week extravaganza across the United States as a memorial to the 40th anniversary of my birth. The driving and history fanatic in me was to spend four of those weeks travelling alone, crossing the country from Las Vegas to Chicago following as much of the original Route 66 as I could find and one thing was for sure: I wasn’t about to end up with thousands of photos that provided zero evidence of me ever having been physically present at the time. So about six weeks before jetting off to sunny California I went online, in the hope that old reliable (aka Google) would reveal to me what it was that I thought I was looking for. And I mean that in the most literal sense – I had no idea if such a device even existed. I didn’t know what to call it or even what words to use for the best search results, so I typed “smartphone”, “photo”, “selfie” and, believe it or not, “extendable arm”. Who woulda thunk it? Right there at the top of my search results was a link to an Ebay item that did exactly what I was looking for. It was ludicrously cheap and arrived from China four days after I bought it. I couldn’t have been more impressed by such a simple thing: a spring-loaded grab handle, a 1.5m extendable arm and a leather wrist strap, all of which would allow for many perfectly framed selfies of me and the great Mother Road – what more could I have wanted?

SelfieStick2013Those who know me well enough or who were actually with me at the time will recall that I’d dubbed the amazing gadget my “selfie stick”. There was no such reference on the eBay listing, nor on the item’s packaging, nor the invoice, nor anywhere else that I saw. I just called it that coz I thought it sounded vaguely amusing, as well as it being something of a “does what it says on the box” descriptor. I don’t recall anybody who saw it saying they’d ever seen anything like it before (it’s possible someone did say they’d seen one before, but why ruin a good story with facts?).

For most of my six weeks in the U.S. and Canada, my selfie stick and I were inseparable. Much of the time it was the cause of a slightly odd but not entirely unpleasant bulge in my pocket and it was extended with great frequency. Wherever I went people would point, smile and comment. I had so many friendly Americans, young and old, asking me what it was, where I’d gotten it and how they could get their own. Initial enquiries invariably lead to interrogation of my accent, where I was from and what I was doing in America, but the parting salvo would always be “So – eBay, China, Selfie Stick, right? I’ll remember that”. Never mind the friendly, adventurous Aussie who introduced it to you.

But even if they forget me, maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe I actually came up with “selfie stick”? Maybe I should’ve patented that name? Maybe I’d be getting rich now if I had.

Fast forward nine months and, apparently, selfie sticks have gone viral. Apparently they now come with Bluetooth connectivity and remote controls and were one of the ‘must have’ gifts of the recent festive season. Apparently they’ve even begun spawning spin-off devices, although the first such device will surely only reduce any purpose the original might’ve genuinely served to a joke. It’ll become a short-term fad that’s only remembered as the extendable stick used to take photos of titillating body parts – mark my words.

But it’s gone viral now. It’s trending online. That means the life will be sucked out of it and everyone will move on to something else before the first Selfie Stick Online Celebrity Dick Pic Scandal even happens. If that’s how it turns out, it’ll be a very sad thing; putting the stomach-churning narcissism of Gen-Selfie to one side, the modern take on the Self-Portrait Camera Stick has more to offer than merely snapping vacuous poses for social media or getting a glimpse of your arse.

Still, for a while back there I felt a bit unique. I created a bit of a buzz. And I was ahead of what was trending online. F*** you, social media!

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT NEW. Matt’s Old Man Rant about the ways of the modern world: Love To ‘Like’ You Baby…


How do you solve a problem like ‘like’?

What is it with the Facebook ‘Like’ button anyway? How did four seemingly innocuous blue letters become quite so over-used!?

Scenario 1: you post a question on Facebook. Does anyone know the ingredients for Vietnamese-style prawns and Hearts of Palm with Green Tea-Noodle Salad? Can anyone tell me where Yakutsk is? Anyone know where I’ll find the closest Nauti & Nice Adult Megastore to my home in the outback of north-west Western Australia? You’ve seen the kind of thing before.

Some friends are eminently forthcoming with comments that directly respond to your question(s). Others, though, are somewhat less obliging – they click ‘Like’. They neither answer the question(s), nor point you in the direction of someone who might be able to, nor provide any other useful comment whatsoever. They just hit ‘Like’ and move on, the online equivalent of giving you a quick and cheery wave as they pass you in the distance.

Scenario 2: you post a sad and sorry tale of woe as your Facebook status update. You’ve never felt so unwell. You’re practically dead. You’re utterly depressed. Your situation is terminal.

Some friends go to the heart of the issue, offering suggestions of what you might want to try, to help improve how you feel; some will openly share observations from personal experience or from having seen friends or family go through similar situations; while some won’t feel able to provide any really useful input, so instead they offer soothing words of comfort or encouragement. Then you get the ones who click ‘Like’ – it’s as if they didn’t read a single word of what you said and remain completely blind to your discomfort. What exactly did they ‘like’ about what they just read?

Has ‘Like’ – whether in the Facebook world or the real one – morphed into an all-encompassing positive response, inclusive of (but not limited to) ‘like’, ‘agree’, ‘ditto’ and, presumably, whatever else can be shoe-horned into the category? Is someone who ‘Likes’ a question actually saying “I’m glad you asked that question, I’ve wanted to ask the same thing”, or “I’d also like to know the answer to that”? Fair enough if all you actually posted was a series of questions. It’s more of a mystery when you’ve just posted your latest sob story – what exactly do your friends mean by clicking ‘Like’ at that point? What are they trying to tell you, by ‘liking’ the fact that you feel so under the weather you could quite happily slice your own face off?

I always thought the word ‘like’ had a broadly understood meaning and that, at least in the online world in the wake of the Facebook revolution, the action of clicking ‘Like’ served a fairly specific purpose too. I’m no longer convinced that either of these things is true and have a sneaking suspicion that the modern concept of ‘like’ may only be very vaguely related to its traditional meaning.

It’s one of the great mysteries of the modern, online, digital, social networking world. I can’t possibly ‘Like’ it until I understand it.