UPDATE: September 23, 2015
QUICK, WHAT’S THE SINGLE WORST THING to happen to global travel in the past twenty-five years? The TSA checkpoint? Airline baggage fees? SARS? Ryanair?
No, it’s the selfie stick, that simple yet infernal contraption that mounts to your phone and allows you to photograph yourself. If you’ve been anywhere lately, you’ve seen them — by the hundreds; by the thousands; by the tens of thousands — a great army of expandable bayonets. Hordes of these things are, at this very moment, marching their way along the Great Wall of China, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and through the corridors of the world’s museums, sticking and jamming and poking and prodding and just generally getting the hell in everybody’s way.
The disturbing irony of this proliferation is that the device isn’t designed so that travelers can take better pictures of their surroundings. It’s designed so that travelers can take better pictures of themselves. How and why have people become so fixated with self-photography? Here you are in this incredible spot, and effectively you’ve got the camera turned around backwards. Instagram, Flickr, Facebook and so on, have become a endless archives of self-photography. “Check out this picture of the Sydney Opera House.” No, actually it’s picture of you, with maybe a corner of the Opera House in the background.
I understand the desire to have a picture of yourself or your loved ones taken in a notable spot. I understand, too, that run-of-the-mill pics of landmarks or scenery can be tedious and redundant — they show nothing a million postcards don’t show already. Putting yourself in the frame, well that makes it personal. I do it. We all do it. But this has gone too far. People are now photographing themselves obsessively, and the busiest tourist spots have become forests of selfie sticks.
The Louvre, we learn, is among the smarter tourist destinations, and now forbids the use of sticks in its galleries. Others should follow suit. Maybe we can get airport security to classify them as weapons and enact a permanent ban?
I visited the Louvre only once. It was a summer day about fifteen years ago, and the experience was made thoroughly miserable by the numbers of people taking pictures. It was impossible to look at a painting without getting jostled and shoved by people posing and aiming their cameras. (When I wrote to the museum advocating that they ban picture taking altogether, they responded with a letter entirely in French, which I couldn’t read and never bothered to have translated). Mind you this was long before the advent of the selfie stick. I can’t imagine how awful it would be in there with sticks in the mix.
We’ve entered a scary new age of narcissism. I’ve been in the company of people who did nothing but photograph themselves, over and over and over. Show us a picture of where you’ve been. Make us want (or not want, as they case may be) to be there. I’m sorry but yet another picture of you does not do that.
Neither does yet another picture of what you had for lunch. The only more annoying trend in travel photography, maybe, is the mania of people posting pictures of food on social media.
I guess that I don’t “see” food the way a lot of people do, as such a valuable and poignant representation of culture? A photo of a meal somewhere, totally out of context, tells me very little. In any case, it’s less about the concept than the sheer volume of these pictures. They’re relentless.
They are so relentless, in fact, that my only option is to surrender and stop complaining about it. I have no choice, it seems, but to join in.
And so, in the days ahead, I plan to upload hundreds of pictures of my favorite restaurant cuisine, both domestic and foreign. The only twist is, the pictures will show the food after I’ve eaten it. I mean, what better demonstrates the tastiness of a particular dish than a shot of bones, sauce residue, and some rice grains that you spat into your plate while arguing with your fellow diners about whether or not Bernie Sanders is “really a martian”? For example, here’s a plane of Jollof rice and chicken, enjoyed the other night at the Buka restaurant in Accra, Ghana. Yum! Doesn’t that look delicious!
A couple of nights later, at the Tandoor Indian restaurant, I savored a delectable dish of coconut chicken kabab with basmati rice. Tell me this doesn’t get your gastric juices flowing.
And here’s a delicious pizza from Pini’s, here in Somerville.
THE AUTHOR’S NON SELFIE-STUCK AND NON FOOD-RELATED TRAVEL PICTURES CAN BE VIEWED HERE.