Selfie sticks turning ‘selfie’ into ‘selfease’

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Ryan Wallace, BYU political science major and volunteer institute teacher uses a selfie stick to capture a picture of everyone in his class. (Ryan Wallace)
Ryan Wallace, BYU political science major and volunteer institute teacher uses a selfie stick to capture a picture of everyone in his class. (Ryan Wallace)

Time Magazine named the selfie stick one of the best inventions of 2014. News agencies NPR, Huffington Post and Business Insider all reported that Southeast Asia was the birthplace of the selfie stick trend. But the stick’s popularity is spreading.

ABN-CNS News, a news agency in the Philippines, created a Google Trends chart showing that in 2014, words associated with “selfie stick” were 100 times more searched in the Phillipines than in the United States.

Brigham Young University graduate student Olga Belikov said she’s seen the selfie-taking device everywhere: graduation ceremonies, tourist hot spots all over Europe, local pools and lakes, and the list goes on.

But America is catching up with the trend. Google Trends shows that the United States is surpassing the Philippines and most of Asia with the number of “selfie stick” Google searches.

“It was hilarious to get back to America and immediately learn what a selfie stick is and see everyone constantly on Snapchat or snapping selfies,” said Katie Heilner, a BYU student who left to serve a Latter-day Saint mission in June 2013.

Heilner returned in December 2014 and was shocked and entertained by the increase of selfies and selfie-taking devices in the U.S and at BYU.

“Before my mission it was like you needed an excuse for a selfie, but now it’s just expected and a completely normal and shameless thing to do,” Heilner said.

Many selfie stick vendors and retailers have popped up in the U.S in response to the growing demand of the gadget and increase of selfie-takers. Jacqueline Verdier, CEO of Selfie On A Stick, said she and her friend-turned-business-partner Dominic Suszanski got the idea to bring the selfie stick to America after seeing it so widely used during a visit to Asia.

“We saw someone using a selfie stick my first evening in Hong Kong, and I immediately wanted one for myself. We had never seen a gadget like this in the U.S.,” Verdier said.

Nordstrom, QVC, Madame Tussauds gift shops and numerous travel stores quickly picked up the company’s product. Selfie On A Stick has seen a 3,000 percent sales growth since the company first started. Media outlets such as the Steve Harvey Show and Vogue Magazine reached out to Selfie On A Stick within the past year, explained Verdier.

“We were so excited when Vogue requested Selfie On A Stick selfie sticks for a vogue.com video shot by Mario Testino,” Verdier said. “(The video) featured Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Cody Simpson, Justin Bieber, Ansel Elgort — even Kris Jenner makes an appearance.”

The selfie stick trend has not come without controversies. Yahoo reported a list of more than 50 tourist attractions that have already banned selfie sticks, in large part due to “safety reasons.” Included in the list of bans are the Metropolitan Museum, Disneyland rides, the Palace of Versailles and Coachella Music Festival.

Some critics say the stick is narcissistic, including Zoe Li, a digital producer at CNN who called the device a “narcisstick” in an online article.

Ben Salazar, a licensed psychologist at BYU, felt otherwise when asked if he felt the selfie stick was a reflection of a narcissistic generation.

“It’s easy to say yes, but that’s because we didn’t have these tools 50, 40, 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s easier for older generations to say, ‘Look how self-centered and irresponsible,’ but these tools are new. Who’s to say they wouldn’t have done the same things?”

Photographic evidence has surfaced in recent years showing that older generations did indeed take a version of photographs similar to selfies.

In 2013 Huffington Post reported on a photograph that was most likely the first selfie ever — a photograph taken by Robert Cornelius of himself in October 1839. The photo was taken in Philadelphia, with a caption on the back that reads, “the first light picture ever taken.”

Older generations may have also used devices similar to selfie sticks. In December 2014, Cumbria, England resident Alan Cleaver sent in a 90-year-old photo of his grandparents to BBC News. The photo shows Cleaver’s grandparents taking a selfie on their wedding day with a contraption similar to a selfie stick — the “stick” part of the contraption is visible in the photograph.

According to Salazar, narcissism isn’t a major concern with the selfie stick, but heightened comparison could be an issue.

The selfie stick feeds into the trend of showing others how many friends someone has, Salazar explained. Young adults get focused on having high numbers of friend counts and “likes” on social media.

“Selfie sticks get bigger groups of friends in the shot, and you look more connected. They make our lives seem really exciting,” he said. “That’s not a bad thing, as long as you can be genuine and have real connections with these people, too.”

Group shots are a big part of the draw for selfie stick users, said BYU graduate student Olga Belikov. She’s noticed Especially For Youth (EFY) groups on BYU campus taking pictures via selfie stick with as many as 30 or 40 students in the frame.

Ryan Wallace, BYU political science major and volunteer CES teacher, said he used a selfie stick for the first time when he took a photo of his institute class.

“I thought (selfie sticks) were ridiculous … but it was handy when I wanted to include as many people as possible in the picture,” Wallace said.

Verdier likened her company’s selfie sticks to “the new Polaroid camera, but better” because they allow many people to be included in group photos. Nobody gets left out, including the photo taker.

“Everyone wants to be in the photo, and the images that are captured can be shared on social media right away,” Verdier said.

Selfie On A Stick created the hashtag movement #SelfWe for group photos, and Verdier expects the hashtag to grow as more people begin to take group photos with selfie sticks.

The selfie stick will be around for a while according to Hillarie Caputo, sales associate at the Orem Best Buy.

Caputo said the store has carried a number of selfie stick options since March 2015, ranging from $10 to $40. People are constantly coming to purchase selfie sticks from all over the Wasatch Front, Caputo said, and the gadget has been a popular item for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts.

Best Buy is keeping up with the demand and will start to carry even more variations of selfie sticks, including a version that is more compatible with different types of smartphones, according to Caputo. More advanced options include Bluetooth setups, longer polls and rings with a button that can be pressed to take selfies from afar.

Belikov said it’s hard to tell how long the trend will last, but she hopes it sticks around long enough for more grandparents to catch on to it.

“How awesome would that be?” Belikov remarked.

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