|Credit: Alan Cleaver, via The BBC|
There is no arguing that the selfie-stick is a silly idea, yet that doesn't stop millions of people who apparently lack in terms of self-consciousness. There is a rational economic reason for their popularity given how expense a stolen smartphone is to replace. However, the unlikely acceptance(?) of selfie-sticks can't be explained by our love of smartphones, as the first such devices predate the iPhone... let alone digital cameras as the above example shows. It was taken of (and by) the grandparents of freelance reporter Alan Cleaver in 1925 in central England. It's not that this was the first self-portrait using a camera, but it's deliciously reminiscent of the countless selfies taken today. The intrusive inclusion of the stick poking out of the photo is just icing on the cake.
Much later, but still in the film era, we have this example from 1995 Japan. The Japanese call these kinds of inventions chindōgu; products that have weirdly specific uses.
Many credit the selfie-stick as we know it to Waynne Fromm, self-made inventor of FrommWorks. It was dubbed the Quik Pod in 2005. As later reported by the The Guardian:
"....in 2005, he filed patents – later granted – for a device he called the Quik Pod (as in “quick tripod”). A brief recap on 2005: Twitter didn’t exist. iPhones didn’t exist. YouTube didn’t exist. If you knew anything about social media, you knew that MySpace was the future. Fromm had invented the selfie stick ahead of time. Far ahead. Probably too far, if we’re going to be honest."
To get a sense of how ahead of the times this was, the first iPhone was launched two years later on June 29, 2007, and mainstream smartphone use was still years to follow. Here is how it stood in 2012 as it was pitched on the Canadian version of Dragon's Den (aka Shark Tank to American viewers.) The inventor had only setup a Facebook marketing page a month before he appeared on the program.
The Quik Pod had made the rounds by this time, but there was no getting over the fact that one's intial reaction to it was still incredulity, if not ridicule. That was probably part of the charm; it was an product that was easy to laugh at but also easy to understand. It was and still is, a silly product. But you have to hand it to Fromm: this was one of the better pitches to make to air on Dragon's Den. He also gave an important insight during the pitch: it's something that had to be demonstrated in order to be sold. Why? Because describing what it is sounds silly. Showing how it works looks silly, but at least there's a tangible benefit. However, this was already later in the product life cycle. By this time, smartphone market penetration was fairly deep and taking pictures from your phone was no longer a novelty, which was probably why all five Dragon's made FRomm an offer.
Ultimately, this is a product that is easy to copy and proliferate, which is probably why the world knows it as the generic selfie-stick instead of the more corporate-sounding Quik Pod®. It's still being sold today, and in a canny marketing move, the company has gone on from the smartphone boom to specifically target the latest hot tech trend: GoPro.