7 reasons it’s time to put down the selfie stick

They shouldn’t just be banned from museums. They should be banned everywhere.

Coachella and Lollapalooza have joined the growing list of venues saying “no” to selfie sticks and with good reason: The annoying and narcissistic tourist plumage needs to be plucked before it comes into full feather. Humans may come from a long history of self portraiture, but the selfie stick is perhaps unique in being not just a tool for capturing images, but a tool for irritating practically everyone in your immediate vicinity.

For every noxious fad, there will be a defender, and the selfie stick is no exception. Arm yourself against the inevitable.

1) The end of spontaneous interactions

One of the more charming aspects of traveling almost anywhere in the world is asking a passerby to snap a picture of you (and perhaps your traveling companion). There’s a sort of universal language embedded in holding out a camera and making a snapping motion, with people around smiling and nodding as they watch you connect with a stranger to make a picture happen. Sometimes it feels a little dorky and you can tell that locals are giggling at you, but you got that picture in front of the Taj Mahal, so you’re feeling pretty good about it.
Travelers can isolate themselves out of fear, shyness, and not knowing the local language. However, a photo can turn into a bridge between two people, and that’s something the selfie stick eliminates—why trust your $600 smartphone to some rando when you can cram in together and snap a selfie?

2) “Come steal from me!”

As travelers nearly anywhere will attest, advertising that you’re a tourist is typically a bad idea. Tourists make easy prey for pickpockets and thieves, not to mention the occasional con artist; the smart traveler works to blend in with the crowd, even in regions where it’s hard not to stand out. A white person on the train in China can pass for an ex-pat, but the minute a selfie stick comes out, the illusion is ruined, and the tourist is flagged as an easy mark.

Ditching a selfie stick is smart in the interests of travel safety, and lots of people use them while traveling or at crowded festivals. If someone’s engrossed in snapping a picture, chances are high that a purse or bag isn’t being well-guarded. Unless the thief accidentally photobombs, it’ll be difficult if not impossible to retrieve the lost item.

3) Self awareness, party of no one

Festivals, urban streets, museums, cultural heritage sites, and major tourist attractions all have one thing in common: crowds. It’s one reason why selfie sticks are so annoying, because people who are focusing on snapping their own photos usually aren’t very aware of their relationship to the space or people around them. That means they’re banging into people, blocking traffic, or going against the flow of the crowd, which is annoying and sometimes actively dangerous.

Particularly in locations where congestion is a serious issue (try going to Harajuku on a Sunday afternoon), people who disrupt the flow are highly undesirable. “Stopping to position for a selfie,” Molly Shilo notes at the New York Observer, “can…lead to congestion in already crowded museums.” Those waving selfie sticks above the crowd aren’t just advertising their douche factor. They’re also warning their fellow humans that they won’t pay attention to where they are and what they’re doing.

4) Turning trips from memories into photographs

One advantage to digital photography is that it’s possible to bring hundreds or even thousands of photographs back from a trip, but it’s also a disadvantage. These images are rarely consulted or sorted through, although sometimes people pull out a handful for an agonizing slideshow to inflict upon their friends.

What people really end up with is a massive chunk of wasted hard drive space and uncertain memories of where they were, because they were so busy taking pictures. Sites seen and meals eaten fall into a blur, with the strongest memory involving the camera, not the actual experience. Putting down the selfie stick and the camera allows people to authentically experience a place. Get wild and dance at a concert. Take in the gardens at a Shinto temple. Meander through a night market. 

Don’t let the camera become a barrier.

5) Mind the flash

Many photographers, particularly amateur photographers, aren’t careful with their flash settings. Abuse of the flash doesn’t just result in washed out, dull images; it’s also very disruptive to everyone around the photographer. Whether you’re in a crowd that doesn’t want to be temporarily night-blinded by the bright light of your camera, a room with animals who don’t want to be disturbed, or an art gallery where the flash could actually damage the art, your photo isn’t appreciated.

For those who hold cameras, it’s easier to remember to double check flash settings before clicking the shutter. When the camera is at arm’s length or more, people don’t realize the flash is on until they’re already blinking and seeing stars. By then, they’ve detracted from the experiences of others—and they might also be facing an expulsion from the venue, depending on where they are.

6) Danger, Will Robinson!

The National Gallery of Art recently banned selfie sticks for an intriguing reason: health and safety. In addition to being worried that visitors might disrupt the viewing experiences of other art lovers or damage the art, gallery officials were concerned that people might stumble and fall down stairs, across railings, and into exhibits. Lack of self awareness in this case could be injurious or even deadly, and even worse, it might break priceless art objects.

Stick holders aren’t the only ones at risk. At Gizmodo, Maddie Stone writes: “Your perfectly-angled selfies may convince the world you’re having the time of your life, but I doubt the same could be said for the kid you end up clocking in the face.” Selfie sticks, it turns out, are more of a hazard than you thought.

7) Stop blocking the view

Ah, a sweeping, majestic view of the Grand Canyon on a clear day, allowing you to see the wealth of one of the world’s most amazing natural wond—wait, now there’s a stick with a cellphone attached to it swimming across your vision. One reason why people hate selfie sticks so much is the obvious one: They get in the way. Whether people are looking at art, visiting historic sites, or trying to enjoy a concert, they don’t want a giant camera between them and the attraction they’re trying to enjoy.

This fundamental concern with selfie sticks may be one of the most compelling, because it comes down to common courtesy. The fact that venues need to specifically require visitors to observe common courtesy is a telling testimony to the state of a self-involved society in which people are encouraged to think primarily for themselves, not in the best interest of others.

Photo via simbiosc/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

S.E. Smith

S.E. Smith

s.e. smith is a Northern California-based journalist and writer focusing on social justice issues. smith's work has appeared in publications like Esquire, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, In These Times, Bitch Magazine, and Pacific Standard.