If the throngs of tourists who congregate each December in Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza were not conspicuous enough, the selfie stick took matters to new heights this holiday season.
On the last day of the year, you could barely walk through New York’s most touristy areas without getting poked or prodded by the latest craze in digital accessories.
The selfie stick is, as the name suggests, an extendable rod to which a smartphone can be affixed for selfies to be snapped from a longer-than-an-arm’s distance. In a culture where technological advances are often used to help humans connect more deeply to their own narcissism, this is an important innovation.
“It’s one of those things where we were like, ‘We should have thought of this ourselves!’” said Ivonne Rivera, 24, who was about to pose for a selfie-sticked selfie in Times Square last Tuesday.
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Before leaving Los Angeles for a visit to New York, she and her sister Sophia Ortega, 21, bought two sticks, each for about $25. They have used the contraptions to take self-portraits wherever they have walked and when seeing the sights from a tour bus.
“They’re really sturdy so no one can knock the phone off the stick, which is good because that would ruin the whole trip,” Rivera said.
Approaching tourists in Times Square who were midselfie-stick selfie with questions about the apparatus resulted in a few general reactions: visible embarrassment, versions of “I don’t speak English” and requests to join in a group self-portrait.
Rima Slim, who was visiting the United States, said, “You see these all the time in Dubai, but here, people stop you to say, ‘What is that?’” Her husband, Ibrahim, was holding a GoPro rod with an encased video camera as he and his family walked through Times Square. They also relied on it a lot when visiting California in December, they said.
“We used it to take videos of us on all the rides at Disneyland,” Ibrahim Slim said.
The phone-holding rods have been available in the United States since at least 2011 when they were offered by iStabilizer, a company near Park City, Utah. Noah Rasheta, iStabilizer’s chief executive, said he began to sell tripods for smartphones in 2010 after wishing he could take an iPhone video of himself playing with his young son at a park. On a trip to Asia in 2011 to meet with parts suppliers for the tripod, he found himself frustrated by the quality of the selfies he took while sightseeing.
“I hated that my arm was in every picture,” he said.
He and his suppliers got to work on a selfie stick right away. Called the Monopod, the device, which includes a remote trigger for the camera shutter, retails for about $35. About 40,000 have been sold since 2012, he said, with about 13 percent of sales occurring just last month. The current critical mass, Rasheta said, is a result of the average Joe’s interest in capturing the kind of in-action footage made popular online by GoPro videos.
“It’s no longer just the vain teenager who wants to do the duck-face picture,” he said.
Mark Mizrahi, 20, and Jaeda Olivieri, 19, said they had come to Rockefeller Plaza from New Jersey just to take a selfie with Mizrahi’s new GoPro camera and rod. “We wanted a picture of us with the tree,” Olivieri said.
As they smiled and posed, curious bystanders asked Mizrahi to demonstrate how the rod folded up and unfurled. He had just returned from a trip to Barcelona, Spain, where, he said, the selfie sticks were even more ubiquitous than in midtown Manhattan. “I pulled it out one time and swerved around and a passing bus almost trashed it, but the video came out awesome,” Mizrahi said.
Outside NY Gift, a souvenir store, a mannequin was wearing a neon NYC sweatshirt and a green foam Statue of Liberty headpiece as it held a selfie rod in its hand.
“It’s working very well,” said Sunam Sherpa, a store clerk who was busy showing features of the gadget to tourists. “You don’t have to ask anyone for a favor to take your picture,” he said. “And that’s very New York not to bother anyone.”