Narcissus was a Technologist: A Utilitarian Argument for Exofab’s Hands-Free Selfie Case

June 6, 2014

7:00 pm

A few weeks ago, a hands-free selfie case for smartphones was released in the United States. If you haven’t heard of it yet, then you will soon. Considering the frequency with which people take selfies, it’s not too hard to imagine that news of the exofab will spread quickly once major channels get a hold of it. But does a new tool that eases self-picture-taking add value (if any) to society overall? Can we derive benefits from this besides greater efficiency for the fulfillment of narcissistic tendencies? Do any of these questions even matter?

It came as a shock to many when “selfie” was announced as the Oxford Dictionaries’s Word of the Year for 2013 (not me, of course, because I can distinguish between Oxford Dictionaries and THE Oxford English Dictionary [insert pretentious gaffaw], which hasn’t yet included the word in its hallowed pages). Accordingly, there has been much discussion in highbrow media and academic communities about the rise of #selfie (hashtag necessary…because I am a #Millennial) culture and the implications that such digital braggadocio has on self-identity, relationships, and perceptions of reality. Of particular interest for most is this issue of rising narcissism, which is quickly becoming a trademark of our generation’s ethos.

If you’ve read Ovid’s Metamorphoses, then you’re certainly familiar with the story of Narcissus. If not, here’s a refresher: Narcissus was a handsome bro who wasn’t interested in hooking up with anyone, which inevitably led to a lot of rejections on his part. Of these many rejections, the nymph Echo was one, and it tore away at her until she spent the remainder of her life in the lonely woods until nothing was left but the fading voice of an echo. The goddess Nemesis, upon learning of the incident, led Narcissus to stare at his own sexy visage in a pool of water and eventually succumb to death. While some believe that the selfie (both the act of taking one and the selfie itself) is a sign of increasing narcissism and superficiality, does the consideration of moral values – of whether taking selfies are right or wrong – play, at all, with the overall utility that society receives from taking these selfies?

The exofab case is a self-healing “smart gel” casing for smartphones – that is it’s primary function: as a protective case for your phone. Developed with the help of 3M, the gel is scratch and puncture proof, capable of “healing” itself by simply filling in those minor gaps. Because of the nature of the gel, a secondary and unintended feature (as co-founder George Boosalis admits) of the exofab is that it can stick to non-porous surfaces, giving users the ability to take hands-free selfies. From a utility standpoint, the case obviously makes it easier for people to take less-awkward, arm-extended selfies.

On a more primary level, the exofab, in essence, allows us to attain more utility from selfies themselves. To understand how that works, we must set aside any arguments made about the selfie’s relationship (whether cause or effect) with narcissism. From a utilitarian standpoint, such considerations make no sense – whether selfies cause or are a result of narcissism, the overall use or pleasure or utility we get from selfies (whether they’re from our own or from others) is not affected by the moral value of narcissism (mainly: that it’s bad). Further, measuring this narcissism on a per-case basis is also dubious, as humans inherently engage in narcissistic activities (private or public) every day.

With these exceptions in mind, it’s easy to understand that the selfies themselves add value to our society; otherwise, their numbers and frequency with which they appear or take place wouldn’t be as prevalent as they are. The data alone proves that: a recent study from Pew revealed that 55 percent of Millenials and an overall 26 percent of Americans have shared a selfie (the study merely looked at sharing as opposed to actually taking a photo of oneself, which is likely higher). These findings suggest that 1) human beings aren’t as opposed to this obsession with self-image as they claim to be and 2) they clearly find utility or pleasure from selfies (whether it’s their friends’ or their own).

From the likes of teenagers to even NASA, the rise of the selfie is a social phenomenon that has merely fallen in accordance with our rapid development of more advanced mobile technology, simply contributing to the increased attainment of pleasure or utility overall. Years ago, the front-facing camera on smartphones wasn’t even a thing – it’s now become a standard feature on all smartphones. The exofab is simply another tool that serves to increase the utility we receive from selfies (whether we can admit to it or not).

Currently, you can purchase the exofab directly from their site or from Amazon.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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