Steve Sasson has racked up a healthy list of accolades: inventor of the digital camera, recipient of the 2009 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and he was a 2012 honoree at the Royal Photographic Society Awards. He was also a 2011 inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
But one title that’s been heaved on his shoulders doesn’t carry the same cachet — the man who made selfies possible.
Sasson’s first digital camera — created at Kodak in 1975 — weighed eight pounds and recorded 0.01 megapixels in black and white. Given technology’s relentless pace, digital cameras rapidly improved since then. The rise of smartphones and cheap front-facing cameras made selfies a thing. It was the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2013. Plenty of news stories since have opined about how selfies signal our culture’s ugly descent into a pit of narcissism.
This angst — even though people have taken self-portraits for years — has trickled down to Sasson.
He was recently on a panel, and wouldn’t you know it, the first question asked about selfies.
“I get blamed for selfies,” Sasson told me with a chuckle. “They do it just to get a rise out of me or something.”
He’s learned to deal with the questions.
“I simply talk about the law of unintended consequences,” Sasson said. “I don’t remember ever in Kodak, working with all my colleagues over the many years, that subject ever coming up. It just wasn’t an issue until fairly recently.”
I caught up with Sasson ahead of Innovation Echo, a panel organized by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, that we’ll both be speaking on Wednesday.
He told me about a recent vacation with his wife to Hawaii, where he was surrounded by people toting selfie sticks.
“They whip these things out like swords, you know,” Sasson said. “And they lean against a fence or whatever and take a picture of themselves with the scene. I’m still of the mind I’m going to ask somebody who’s standing there to take a picture of me.”
For him, the backlash against all things selfies is a manifestation of how we can’t help but be annoyed with people using gadgets to accomplish their goals without engaging the rest of the world.
Sasson, and everyone on the panel, will be taking questions from the audience on social media during Wednesday morning’s event. Like it or not, there’s a good chance selfies will come up. (You can watch a livestream here Wednesday at 10:30 am ET.)