Although the selfie stick is readily dismissed as a tool for digital narcissism, its simplicity belies both an obscure origin story and its curious status as a primitive gadget, at once fetishistic and banal. Patented as early as 1985, the modern selfie stick was created by Wayne Fromm in 2006, predating the widespread adoption of smartphones.
Ahead of its time until it wasn’t, the Canadian inventor’s “extendable handheld monopod” would find its purpose several years later, following the astronomical rise of the selfie. Instantly recognizable yet utterly anonymous, the selfie stick is unique in that it actually dumbs down the smartphone, turning it from a computer into a camera.
In September of 2016, Snapchat strategically unveiled its first physical product: Spectacles, a pair of youthful sunglasses embedded with a tiny video camera, expressly designed for the popular disappearing-picture-messaging app. In anticipation of its first foray into hardware, the Los Angeles-based technology startup also changed its name to Snap and rebranded itself as a “camera company.”
Yet Snap’s revenue comes from advertising, not cameras, and it competes not with Kodak or Polaroid but Facebook, Google, Apple, etc. For these tech titans, images and video are not media — much less memories — but rather data, both about the world and the users themselves.