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Should You Embrace the “Selfie” on Your Next Vacation?

Retail reports from late 2016 suggest that the selfie stick may be declining in popularity. John Lewis, a British company, noticed a 50 percent drop in sales—a decline possibly attributed to selfie-stick bans in several major local venues. Worldwide, the unit sales are harder to calculate, but other retailers show similar trends.

Nevertheless, travellers from all walks of life use these silly devices. For example, 55 percent of Brazilians admit to using selfie sticks. North Americans trail close behind. Only a few countries defy the trend—like Finland weighing in at only a 4 percent usage rate.10

In many respects, the popularity of the selfie stick correlates with the rise of selfie pictures. However, as goofy as the apparatus is, it does solve a problem recreational travellers have had for quite some time with their selfies—perspective.

Selfies and Scope

Before the selfie stick, we could take pictures of ourselves in one of two ways:

  1. Extending the arms forward, tilting the camera upwards and smiling (we’re not going to discuss selfies without a front-facing camera lens);
  2. Asking another person to take the picture.

Regarding both strategies, the resulting travel photo comes out imperfect. When taken too closely to the subject (you), you assume the focal role—the destination or event gets subordinated. Having another person step back and take a picture with a more contextual frame solves this problem, but you lose creative control over the photo’s composition. Of course, this matters less to causal picture takers.

Why Would We Want to Be the Focal Point of a Travel Picture?

Association is the main reason we think we want to take selfies on vacation. It’s easier to recall a memory with more visual queues—we conjure up details about ourselves in the environment instead of just the environment itself. For example, if you’re wearing a pair of sunglasses in the photo that you lost later that day, it may prompt further recollections about what happened on that trip.

The real reason for selfie-taking, though, has nothing to do with the above explanation. Researchers have delved into the selfie trend and come up with other theories.

  • Decades ago, the only people who would have been photographed so intimately (and so frequently) were celebrities. The ability to now participate fosters a sense of achievement and inclusivity with the elite.
  • Posting selfies is an act of approval-seeking. Positive comments on social channels helps boost confidence, but it also encourages narcissism: we become hyper-aware of our appearances and strive to be always picture perfect.

With regards to the second theory, approval-seeking taints the selfie on vacation. Travel should be about total immersion in new places and cultures, and the selfie grounds us to home and its familiar social expectations. It suggests that we’re not of the mindset to fully absorb what’s in front of us and that we’d rather just act the role of traveller for others to witness.

Selfie Rewards

When you think of compensated travel photography, images of wildlife and landscapes probably come to mind. In short, National Geographic. But that’s not to say there’s no market for selfies.

Interestingly, marketers today understand the mass popularity of the selfie—as well as its psychology—and tap into it by offering brand sponsorship. For example, some hotels and restaurants pay for selfies to use in marketing collateral. Some retailers also encourage customers to post selfies with their products for contests.

So perhaps, there is one more utilitarian reason we take selfies to add to the discussion above.