The selfie-stick and the phenomena centred on the ‘ego’

Selfies are so last year. The trend now is to snap yourself with a device that looks like a mini golf club, says Jonathan deBurca Butler. 

The selfie-stick and the phenomena centred on the ‘ego’

IT was reported last week that Taoiseach Enda Kenny had taken part in a group photo at the Young Fine Gael conference in Limerick.

Had the photo been a bog-standard portrait, it would not have made several front pages and garnered so much social-media attention.

But the photo was taken with a selfie-stick; the latest in a recent line of products and phenomena centred on the ‘ego’.

Our dear leader is no stranger to selfies; something he shares with most modern-day ‘I’m-so-down-with-the-kids’ politicians. US president Barack Obama and Britain’s prime minister David Cameron have been known to point the camera at themselves and... shoot.

A selfie-stick is a logical next step for any politician. It is an extendable rod on which you place a camera and then take photos, of yourself, often with other people.

The extension allows you to broaden the panorama of the shot and thus you fit more in — more adoring supporters, more beautiful mountains and, maybe, if you’re not watching, the odd water-charges protester. Nobody knows who invented the selfie-stick.

The basic premise — of keeping the camera away from yourself to get perspective — is not new. Canadian Wayne Fromm can lay claim to the idea.

Fromm was on holiday in Italy, and was on the Ponte Vecchio, in Florence. He wanted to take a picture with his daughter, but didn’t want to time the camera, leave it on the bridge, or ask someone to do it for him.

As an inventor, the dilemma got him thinking and, in 2005, he came up with Quik Pod — a stick that kept the camera steady, safe and away from the photographer.

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Unfortunately, Fromm had timed his invention a little early. The iPhone had yet to be invented. iPhone selfie sticks operate via bluetooth — a wireless technology device that exchanges data over short distances and which is fitted into both the stick and your iPhone.

Arguments are sure to rage as to who did or didn’t invent the selfie stick, but I wanted to find out if it was actually any good.

The people of Dublin were most helpful.

The first problem was buying a selfie stick. I covered three floors of Arnotts and spoke to six customer-service representatives, who looked at me with a mixture of bafflement and confusion and with a sliver of pity.

Eventually, I was directed to information, who told me to go to electrics, where I bought one for €29.99.

“Do you want a bag for that?” asked the assistant.

“Two,” I replied with slight mortification.

I then needed to find a place to figure out how the stick worked. Across from Arnotts, I found Vice, a coffee shop in the well-known music venue, The Twisted Pepper.

Assembling the stick was easy — attach the phone to the clamp, turn on bluetooth on your phone and on the stick, wait a second for the two devices to recognise each other, turn on your camera and away you go — no wires and no messing; just the genius of modern technology.

My initial discomfort and self-consciousness faded quickly; it became apparent that nobody cared about some guy on his own, sitting in a corner, taking photos of himself with a long stick. Within five minutes of assembling it, I was looking for people and things to get into the pictures with me.

Vice owner Tom Stafford duly obliged and, as I snapped away, we chatted about the selfie-stick phenomenon.

“I was reading about a festival over in London,” said the Dubliner. “On the back of the ticket, where they have the terms and conditions, there was ‘no umbrellas, no cans, no drugs and no selfie-sticks’.”

As the owner of a coffee shop in a nightclub, I asked if Tom had seen many of the devices and what his staff thought of them.

“I can’t speak for the bouncers in here, at night time, but I’ve never seen people bringing selfie-sticks in here,” he says.

“I don’t know what they’d think. It’d be interesting to see what places like Croke Park would say about it.”

Selfie-sticks have been banned by several public institutions, such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Authorities in French museums are now contemplating the same, while football clubs, including Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, have banned the sticks from their grounds — they are potential weapons.

Earlier this month, Jonathan Jones, in The Guardian, praised MoMA for its decision and urged museums in Britain to do the same. Last week, The National Gallery, in London, banned the sticks.

“Selfie-sticks,” he wrote, “are not just a physical danger to museum collections. They are also a spiritual menace — as are selfies themselves, and cameras, and smartphones.”

Our own National Gallery’s policy is also clear.

“The National Gallery of Ireland would not permit the use of these devices,” says gallery press officer, Valerie Keogh. “That’s in accordance with its policy to safe-guard the collection on display and for the safety of members of the public viewing works of art.”

Back on Moore Street, fruit-and-vegetable-stall owner, Pauline McCreery, says she isn’t bothered by people taking selfies.

“Do you want me to take a photo with it?” she asks. “I wouldn’t have a clue how to use it.”

After several selfies, we move on to a colleague of Pauline’s, who refuses to either take a photo or give her name — quite refreshing in a world where everyone wants to be famous.

“I tell you where I seen it,” she says of the stick.

“It was a documentary about the realtor, the fella in New York who sold those houses and apartments to millionaires and he got one of these things off the internet and he’d go around taking photos of himself in these expensive houses. Gas he was.”

From Moore Street, it was on to take a few shots of myself and some famous landmarks around the city.

So, how did they turn out? In a word — brutal. Sure, the stick gives you more perspective, but inevitably you are so busy trying to control it in the wind and press the button at the same time that the shot comes out lop-sided and makes you look like you’re trying to reel a fish in from a river.

Now, maybe it was the button on my device, which, after a while, became a task to press, but none of the results were particularly effective or earth-shattering.

Yes, I did get all of The Spire into a shot and, to some people, Big Jim Larkin coming out of my head may look spectacular, but, all told, I could think of better ways to spend €29.99.

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