Photo Booths Legitimize Vanity (XOXO conference report plus bonus rambles?)

I hope you remembered your umbrella 'cause I'ma MAKE IT RAAAAIIIINNNNN

Once upon a time I made most of my living speaking. I got tired of the travel, repetition, egocentric way every event thinks it is special and expects me to feel the same. TED has made this medium mediumer than ever (as in ultra average) with pseudo-fame glamorization: many venues expect that as long as they shove a camera in your face they can expect you to deliver feel-good inspiration where the only action required of the audience is agreement and applause, without compensation, and that you should be glad of the opportunity to do free work at their very prestigious and very special event, because their exclusive copyrighted recording of your unpaid work could lead to even more unpaid work.

I’m super jaded to the utmost maximum level. I don’t accept speaking invitations anymore. Yet somehow, I ended up at XOXO a couple weeks ago scheduled to give a talk. This is what happened:

Look! I’m on camera! I am so permanent, captured.

It’s weird to see it all fancily filmed and edited, because it makes it seem almost professional and prepared, rather than the quickly-thrown-together unrehearsed improvisation that it was. This is in contrast to my videos, which I spend huge amounts of time scripting, producing, and editing, yet sometimes people still get the impression that I’m actually rambling in real time.

The talk could have gone horribly wrong, which would still have been more fun for me than giving a stellar performance of some static well-rehearsed speech that would be better off as a video anyway. If I ever find myself accidentally giving a talk in the future, I will make sure it DOES in fact go horribly wrong, just for the novelty, because the XOXO talk may have been slightly non-standard, but I could do better.

Ok, back to the conference. It was a pretty good event as far as events go, and though I did not feel the specialness of it as keenly as other attendees seemed to, I had a good time overall, and the audience was more than up to the challenge of following along with me as I entertained myself. Mostly, though, I want to report on one of the novelties of this conference in Portland: the sheer number, variety, and availability of photo booths.

You know what? I like photo booths. Photo booths legitimize vanity in a way “selfies” can’t. When expensive machinery and valuable real estate are dedicated to serving my need to document my own face in its various states of inebriation, it broadcasts clearly to me that taking pictures of myself pretending to have friends is, if not OK, at least normal. I am willing to pay $4 to support this fantasy.

To be fair, $4 gets you the vanity-is-OK fantasy PLUS a single hard-copy of the photos themselves, immediately to be replaced by digitized versions sent via email and twitter, replicated innumerable times via blog post.
photobooth-dan-messing   photobooth-mayli chris-hecker-photobooth
Those are just your every-day Portland photo booth, not the sort of cutting-edge innovations in photo booth technology I trust you are anticipating at the edge of your seats– or on your toes, if you are at a standing desk, as I’m sure many of you in-the-know health-conscious individuals have chosen to be! No, all that was but a warm-up to my vanity.

One photo booth featured at the conference was a Lensley Automatic, complete with touch-screen options for receiving your event-branded photo via email, twitter, or facebook, at a party where in each section of the balcony everything from seating to hors d’oeuvres was some particular color, though that’s unrelated to the photo booth thing.


But the result was just a regular semi-flattering photo! The boundaries have not been pushed, and boundary-pushing has not been encouraged, perhaps because traditional photo booths already have cultural expectations as to how one behaves in them. At that point, I was not yet convinced that having machines take pictures of me was a good use of my time.

And then the Smilebooth auto-GIF-erizer-with-branding-options thingy, complete with two iPad-equipped attendants, came into my life, and I welcomed it with open arms.


This thing not only encouraged me to look-at-my-own-face-under-the-guise-of-pretending-to-have-friends in all new animated ways…

HELLOOOOO! This person I am attacking is named Zain. Hi Zain!

…but in addition, the booth attendants showered me with real-life human validation. I felt encouraged to push the boundaries of my new-found art form, especially as the boundary was covered in floppies!!!! :D


But if you don’t like the results, blame the machine. The photo booth, that selfie-by-proxy, allows me as much control as I want, without having to take responsibility for the results, good or bad. Ah, technology, scapegoat for all occasions! Don’t you hate when you’re on a customer service call or something and they’re all like “Sorry, the system did a thing as if it were its own independent entity, I can’t do anything about fixing the problem we wouldn’t’ve had if we’d had competent programmers, and there’s no way to fix it because it is on a computer, so you’re out of luck and our company is definitely not to blame”? That happens all the time to me!