By now you all must have heard about the “selfie stick”, literally a stick made so that people can take better selfies, which itself is a quite recent phenomena. Well, it turns out that recently people in the internet have found out that years before the popularity of the invention, the “selfie stick” was already present in a book of “useless Japanese inventions“, published in 1995 to showcase a lot of humorous inventions made in Japan that anyone at that time would find useless.
What can we make out of that? Can we say that their interpretation was wrong all along and what was deemed as useless was in fact a multimillionaire invention? Or should we say that this just proves that today’s society worship the useless, and that in fact the selfie-stick is as useless and ridiculous as the book have told us?
I would prefer to say that the “selfie stick” teaches us a lesson in the historicity of values.
What is it that makes something come from the book of uselessness to the ultimate must have item of today?
Well, perhaps we should take a look at the societies that produced these different evaluations.
For starters, 1995 was not exactly considered the age of internet. Digital cameras were not exactly as popular as now, and even less were cellphone cameras, let alone smartphones. The world of interconnectedness was a far away concept that had little feasibility in those times.
For an author born in the late 80s such as myself, I remember going to the store to get the pictures revealed by a professional in order to take a look at how the photos we took in our camera turned out to look like. So, given that, it is indeed a strange idea to imagine a stick that can take a picture of yourself.
But this is not only about technology, for there was also no need to take a picture of yourself. After all, the means of showing pictures around would have to be inviting everyone over a photo album to look at it, and even that was considered a rather personal activity.
Now fast forward to today’s society. The society of online social networking. The society of the food pictures, the #Hashtags, the geo-tags, and more to our point, the selfie.
The selfie has emerged as a phenomena in an age in which most of us has grown accustomed to produce permanent, yet ever-changing, portfolios of ourselves. The selfie came about as a territorial demarcation in the age of mobility. A photographic veni, vidi, vici. As if to say “I was there, here is the proof!”.
It is the age of experience marketing, the immaterial economy that consumes lifestyles rather than just products. But more than that, that advertises ourselves as having certain lifestyles, or more precisely, as having many lifestyles.
Given that, it is not hard to comprehend how an invention such as the “selfie stick” has moved from the Japanese book of useless inventions, and into the shelves of most stores around the globe.
Truth is, none of them were wrong, but they were both right from their epoch’s point of view.
Now, you may still want to say that a “selfie stick” remains an useless invention. But the truth is, it is certainly useful from the point of view of giving the needed tools to a society that demands our image to be constantly online, always updated, always somewhere new or doing something different.
Translate that into Japanese urban society and the news about individualization summed with hyper-marketization of human relations, and you get extra points of usefulness!
As someone that has been living in Tokyo for years, I grew accustomed (to a certain extent) to seeing stores that sell human-contact by the hour. For those who are already familiar with the image of Host and Hostess bars in which people pay someone to flirt and talk to them at a bar, I would say this is just the tip of the iceberg. Tokyo has also produced Dating games, that now with the gps technology of the 3DS portable consoles allows gamers to take their games for a walk, or going on a trip with them, all with corresponding reactions from the in-game girl. There is also places where you can pay by the time for someone to look you in the eyes, blow into your ear, pet your hair, and so on.
Another feature, as I indicated above, is the marketization of yourself into a permanent hyper-connected portfolio.
Linkedin, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and even a blog such as this one, are shortcuts into someone’s self-identity.
Thus the selfie becomes an apparatus of identity making. A powerful tool to those who need to create a marketable identity of themselves in a growing networked, connected, and marketed world.
For that, the “selfie-stick” is, indeed, a Japanese useless invention from 1995, that couldn’t be more useful for today’s society. As for me, I’m curious to see which next invention might make out of our categories of uselessness and into the world of must haves. Do you have any guesses?