The White House Correspondents’ Dinner banned selfies and it was actually great

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an annual event meant for reporters and government officials to celebrate free press together, has lately become a competition to who can invite and take pictures with the best and coolest celebrities.

Like every other 18-year-old in attendance, my goal in attending Saturday night’s event was to meet as many stars as possible. After all, when am I ever going to get another opportunity to stand in the same room as Kerry Washington, Adriana Lima, and Bill Nye the Science Guy again? When are they going to be in the same room again, for that matter?

Last year, that was easy, thanks to the selfie. With the help of my trusty front-facing iPhone camera, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner became the world’s coolest scavenger hunt, with me and my friends scurrying from one pre-party to another with a “gotta catch ‘em all” mindset in the hour and a half after the doors open and before the dinner starts.

This year, though, was turning out to be a different experience.

Several individual parties sent out memos asking guests not to take photos “with the artists.” Read: no selfies with celebrities. For the people like me —and I think it’s fair to say most non-VIPs at the event —  banning selfies in 2016 is a pretty absurd request.

Yes, I realize being upset over a selfie ban is such a #FirstWorldProblem. Heading over to the Washington Hilton that night was obviously still more than exciting, but it did present some questions: Can we get away with taking “regular” pictures with celebrities? Doesn’t that mean we have to converse with them first? Won’t that cut down our time to find other stars?

The answers were yes, usually, and no.

The great thing about selfies is that they’re quick and easy, especially if you’re trying to get a picture with a big name celebrity. Everyone wants to talk to or take a picture with Will Smith, so you’re probably not going to be able to grab him for long enough to pose and let the camera flash. A seasoned selfie taker could ask him for a selfie and take the picture in less than eight seconds before moving on to find their next target favorite star.

Most other VIPs were more that happy to take regular posed pictures, though. We did miss out on Kerry Washington, who was (rightfully) swarmed by fans and other stars alike, but with patience and a little bit of guts, it wasn’t hard to catch other big names for the classic posed picture.

The selfie, by nature, is also extremely informal. That eight-second time span it would take doesn’t account for any small talk, which is great if you’re trying to take several in a short period of time. A classic picture, on the other hand, requires a little more dialogue.

Since it’s more of a formal photo, it seems only right to make small talk before posing the question. This originally seemed like a hassle and an overall nerve-wracking experience. How much can I say to an actor from my favorite TV show before I turn into a babbling idiot? (Answer: not much.)

Below is a picture of me and a friend with Ed Weeks (Jeremy Reed in “The Mindy Project”) moments before the conversation awkwardly ended with me babbling that I hoped he would enjoy the food he was holding.

This is me and a friend with Ed Weeks (Jeremy Reed in “The Mindy Project”) moments before the conversation awkwardly ended with me telling him to enjoy the food he’s holding.

Time constraints weren’t even a problem: we finished with 21 different pictures, compared to the 20 selfies from the year before.

We also got to make genuine, if short, connections with people. I got to tell Ed Weeks how much his show meant to me, and my friend had a pretty cool conversation with Steve Aoki about how much she enjoyed going to his concert over the summer. Everyone we talked to seemed to be genuinely touched both that we were fans of their work and that we took the time to say so.

Overall—and hopefully I don’t lose my millennial card for saying this— the selfie ban was actually kind of nice. I’m certainly not calling for a permanent, worldwide outlaw of the front-facing camera, but this year’s Correspondents’ Weekend made it more about the people and (slightly) less about the social media posts. It was a nice reminder that taking pictures with famous people is cool, but actually connecting with those people is even cooler.

In an attempt to subdue fans at an event that actors have recently referred to as “overwhelming” and “a zoo,” the selfie ban—dare I say it?— made the Correspondents’ Dinner great again.