Museums in New York are imposing a ban on selfie sticks
Selfie sticks are being prohibited in more and more places due to safety concerns
The real issue behind the selfie stick may be the selfie itself
Some of the world’s most important museums are confirming what we’ve suspected all along but didn’t dare say: selfie sticks are stupid.
If ever there was a product that preyed so heavily on our fear of insignificance, it’s the selfie stick, or as I like to call it, the narcisstick.
But wait, there’s already a selfie stick company called exactly that, because it’s witty and ironic, right?
And not painfully honest.
More and more museums in New York are announcing bans on the selfie stick.
The Museum of Modern of Art (MoMA) has long removed the sticks from their exhibition halls to prevent damage to the artwork.
Stop before someone gets hurt
If you’ve ever set foot in MoMA you’ll know what a difficult experience it can be.
Not because it isn’t an exceptional art institution that’s given the world some of its most mind-expanding exhibitions.
But because of other people.
The MoMA is one of the world’s busiest museums – add selfie sticks among the crowds and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
The same situation can be found at many famous tourist landmarks.
The Forbidden City in Beijing received 15 million visitors last year, more than any other museum in the world.
I used to enjoy walking the palace grounds every time I passed through the capital city – now that everyone’s got a selfie stick, I fear for my life.
Am I being melodramatic?
Let’s just say, like seat belts and extramarital affairs, the selfie stick problem doesn’t hit home until someone gets hurt.
An increasing number of sites have seen the potential hazard and put a stop to things before a “tragedy” occurs.
The Australian Open has banned selfie sticks, outside of designated selfie zones.
Use of unauthorized selfie sticks in South Korea could get you fined.
Sports and music stadiums around London have banned the stick, as well.
We need to talk about selfie
Yet the real issue behind the selfie stick is the selfie itself.
It’s somehow become socially acceptable for us to take the narcissism of adolescence and extend it thorough adulthood, manifested in selfies.
I know I sound like a tired curmudgeon who probably doesn’t even know what Instagram is and hates Facebook.
I’m none of those things and, yes, I do enjoy the occasional guilty pleasure of a selfie, so I can’t and won’t be a hypocrite about it.
(The gallery above should prove that I understand.)
When it comes to traveling, though, when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime visits to sacred landmarks and world-class museums or wandering side streets in strange cities, I’d hope that we could all turn the lens away from ourselves.
A fresh perspective
Or simply put the camera away.
Travel writer Paul Theroux once told his readers: “I never bring a camera – because taking pictures, I’ve found, makes me less observant and interferes with my memory.”
How much do we rely on photographs to remember our vacations?
Does it really matter that we have a formal permanent documentation of every moment of our travels?
What if we entirely let go of documenting and just simply experienced?
I tried it for a day.
It is what I imagine skydiving would be like: terrifying at first, then exhilarating and finally, when I got my mind to stop subconsciously framing every street scene, I became more present than I’ve ever been on a trip.
In any case, selfies are a cliche that have always reminded me of Rowan Atkinson as that sad old buffoon, Mr. Bean, taking self-portraits with his teddy bear in front of Buckingham Palace.
Instead of waving a glorified tree branch to take a slightly better version of a cliched shot, let’s just move on.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Zoe Li.
Hong Kong-based freelancer Zoe Li writes regularly on Chinese art, culture, food and travel.