commentary

(jingle jingle) selfies killed the digital cam

To enthusiasts, the selfie is a sign of decline, of self-indulgence. Digital camera sales are in decline. They have been for 5 years, the peak occurring between 2009 and 2011. And just what killed those sales? The smartphone. 

That despite Nikon giving us the D5000 with a selfie-friendly swivel screen. That despite mirrorless cameras being lighter and smaller, and easier to ratchet into selfie position. Thumb on the trigger! Say Cheese! That despite smartphone-controlled remote releases, a rainbow of cute (dare I say, self-indulgent) colours. That despite myriad attempts by camera makers to tap into the self market.

Enthusiasts could be right: the selfie may be the camera world's anti-Christ. Or, it may be the next logical step in the evolution of 'me'. The first artist-AWOL family portrait was invented with the invention of the camera. Paint brushes and chalk replaced the chisel, which in their turn, replaced the smudge of blood-and-shit on the wall. 

Handprints and impressionist splotch is no match for the mirror. We want us. We want it now. And we always have.

The smartphone has replaced the stranger-in-your-American-dream taking your Christmas family portrait. It has replaced the stranger-snapping-you-in-front-of-Niagara. The pole-mounted smartphone, the GoPro, and the glasshole wink more than make up for someone else's fingerprints on your life. 

And today, one resource in endless supply, made up by smiles, winks, duck-pursed lips: our face, is really all we care to see. It has always been so. The artist painted canvas, spackled cave, printed to paper in order to be remembered. The first self-portrait came hand in hand with the mirror.

We haven't' changed. Selfie culture didn't evolve, it was made radically simple by a modern piece of technology. Since the dawn of self-awareness, humanity has groaned for for the smartphone and the internet. Camera makers never understood this. They thought we wanted to be artists. They thought we wanted to be warriors. They thought we wanted their throwaway shit. 

They were wrong. 

We wanted us, in 4:3, or 3:2, or square, on film, or in a Twitter feed, faux-retro effects and all. And thanks to technology, we no longer need a dedicated camera to do it. Phones take pictures that hold up under great scrutiny even at respectable print sizes. 

One day, our kids will seethe at a new technology. The smartphone, the foundational smartphone will be supplanted by the Mario-Kart flying selfie cam, or home-cloned Zelda pixies snapping away at us, typing our thoughts, placing orders for more house-building foam

And camera makers will still be sending faxes, trying to figure out how non-camera makers ran away with the us.