Narcissticks and the death of human connection


“Oh, look, it’s Saint Peter’s tomb! Let’s snap a quick selfie!”

Many of us in this situation may roll our eyes, while others might simply walk away in laughter. Selfie sticks, however, have seemingly distorted our affinity for beauty, truth, and goodness in many aspects of daily life.

As humans living in a time of ubiquitous digital technology available at our fingertips or the touch of a button, we thrive on the latest and greatest trends. What we haven’t quite figured out is exactly how too much technology has not only made our lives supposedly easier, but it also has made our lives egocentric and void of human connection.

When I reflect on what this looks like for our footprint in the timeline of human history, I’m at a loss for words. While abroad here in Florence, I’ve had time to explore the most breathtaking pieces of art, architecture, and history. As I sat outside the Colosseum, gazed mesmerizingly at Michelangelo’s La Pietà, or admired Brunelleschi’s brilliant Duomo, I was reminded of my smallness.

The grandeur of these works is truly attributed to masterpiece craftsmanship and breathtaking architecture from great minds and divine inspiration. Yet, in this timeline of the most magnificent contributions to history, we as Americans have very few contributions to boast of.

Smart phones, social media, and selfie sticks, are what Millennials have contributed to the world of art. We see this progression in the current generations of our world who have turned from taking photos with a point-and-shoot digital camera to holding up an iPad to snap a selfie in front of the Trevi Fountain. We now ask ourselves if this is how we would like to be remembered by our posterity.

Before smart phones attached to the end of a selfie stick were the dominant form of picture taking and digitalization of our world, humans had no other option than to stop, be still, and wonder. For our world today, many seem unable to fathom walking into, for example, the Louvre Museum, and admiring the exquisite artwork in front of us without grabbing a selfie with Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Because, after all, pictures or it didn’t happen.

When today’s Toreros travel or study abroad, they don’t hesitate to grab selfies, to snap pictures, to capture almost every waking moment of breathtaking beauty. Even the street vendors walking around tourist attractions with selfie sticks harass every person walking by to purchase one, for they surely know our obsession with photos of ourselves and hope to make a profit off of it. Ironically enough, we’ve made the need for selfie sticks our problem; there wouldn’t be any selfie sticks if we didn’t demand them to be supplied to us.

Senior An Nguyen shared that she is a not a fan of these photo-taking sticks.

“If selfie sticks were gone the next day, I wouldn’t miss them,” Nguyen said.

Yes, I too take the occasional selfie, but you won’t see me holding a selfie stick. Selfie sticks and the contested art of selfie-ing have encouraged our seemingly rampant egocentrism, giving us the ability to be our own photographer and subject at the same time. While simultaneously void of human connection, save for with any people featured in your selfie, selfie stick photos are about me, myself, and I and showcase that to the world.

By engaging in what appears to be a harmless and pleasurable act, we are eliminating part of what makes us all human — that is this need for connection.

The slang word itself, selfie, reminds us that it’s about us. This fulfills our selfish desire, and it’s a pleasure we can indulge in. Plus, we fail to acknowledge that selfies with sacred memorials or ancient ruins denigrate these landmarks as mere objects of insignificance.

Of course, sometimes we use selfies as a means to express our most authentic self, to showcase our loveliness in a way that we feel beautiful in, and this is empowering. Yet, selfies and selfie sticks are problematic.

Disney theme parks across the world, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago are among many who have taken steps to ban selfie sticks from their premises. Coachella music festival has also banned these narcissticks, as internet users have affectionately nicknamed them, explicitly stating in one of their rules that both selfie sticks and narcissists are not allowed.

Today, selfies most oftentimes are an excuse to avoid contact with a stranger for a possible fear of the unknown. Maybe we’re afraid to ask, or maybe it’s because we’re nervous we’ll ask the wrong person, and they’ll do a poor job. Ostensibly, this simple task now strikes us with a slight distress over human communication. Strangers might appear scary, but photography is a universal language across the globe. Try asking a stranger to help take your picture. Who knows, you might just meet a new friend.

Recently, photography as an artform has been distorted for a mere keepsake in our phone storage. As we spend time visiting places and traveling the world, we seem instead to accumulate pictures instead of memories, wonder, and unadulterated awe. We must acknowledge that some moments, as Helen Keller once coined, cannot be seen with the eyes; they must be felt with one’s heart.

Even though we might realize that such profound beauty can’t be captured in a single photograph, we insist that photos equal lifetime memories. When we put away the smart phones, when we release our fingers from the shutter button on our selfie stick, we open ourselves to witnessing the awe-inspiring life that surrounds us.

Do yourself a favor: put down the phone, and throw away the selfie stick.