In this era of planetary-scale computing, big data, and even bigger ambition, technological determinism continues to surprise us — users, whether we know it or not — in its unexpected guises, if not its eternal promise of a better future. The latest and greatest manifestation of this desire is Snap Spectacles, a camera embedded in a pair of sunglasses that anticipate augmented and augmentable realities, short of crossing the threshold into them.

Just as Spectacles represent more than a wearable camera, so too does its antithesis take an unlikely form, at once fetishistic and banal. The lowly selfie stick is the unassuming counterpoint to the chic shades, an equally uncanny product that embodies far more than a putatively narcissistic prosthesis. Whereas Spectacles are overdetermined by their design — from the styling and hardware to the interface and user experience — the selfie stick is underdetermined by its brutish, uncompromising instrumentality.

Insofar as these objects are novelties in every sense of the word, it is all the more urgent to decode them. Situated at opposite ends of the contemporary techno-photographic complex, these two consumer products reveal and conceal just how we consume and produce images today.

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Appendix I: Visual Research: Digital slideshow | Download as PDF (9.2 MB)