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The Death Toll Is Rising: The Dangers of Taking Selfies

By Anvi Joshi (‘21)

Photo courtesy of Wix

The selfie: in this day and age everyone has taken one. From grandparents to children, the phenomenon has only picked up steam since its popularization in 2013, with social media platforms optimizing the feeling of people both noticing and liking what they are doing. However, the selfie has been the cause of, strangely, a number of accidents and even deaths, propelling some to take serious action.

The story of the selfie’s inspiration begins back in the early 90s, according to a New Yorker article. “‘This crazy idea came about in the late eighties and early nineties that, in order free ourselves of all these social problems, everything from drug abuse to domestic violence to teen-age pregnancy, we just had to believe we were special and amazing,’” according to Will Storr, the author of a book on the topic.

The 90s vision slowly built up to what young people today are exposed to constantly, an invention that allowed people to express themselves through the front camera lens, demonstrating their individuality and importance to the rest of the world.

Sophomore Mamata Bhangale said “Our generation has become really obsessed with… social media and trying to share to other people what they’re doing. And I think that’s why people are taking it to such extremes because they want to show people that they are doing something too… I feel like If you don’t have something on your social media account then people think you are boring and you have nothing to do with your life.”

This notion where having nothing on the internet means having “no life” reflects the importance society has put on online presence and personas, oftentimes causing insecurity and developing other mental disorders in younger users of the programs and apps.

For some people, peer pressure has built up around technology as well, like Freshman Shreya Mandapaka who said “I feel like everyone feels pressured to join social media because they all want to be part of it. It’s mainly like bandwagon, people want to do what everyone else is doing.”

While the idea started years before, it has essentially become the product of a culture focused largely on popularity and influence, making some believe it is lending to narcissism.

However, before anyone can focus on that disorder, the selfie has created its own supposed illness: selfitis.

Selfitis is “a genuine mental condition that makes a person feel compelled to constantly take photos and post them on social media, psychologists say” according to an article by Andrea Downey.

A news story in 2014 claimed that selfitis was an actual condition. Soon, it became realized that this news was fake until the disorder was observed and scientifically proven last year, as Dr. Mark D. Griffiths wrote on Psychology Today, “participants confirmed there appeared to be individuals who obsessively take selfies —or, in other words, that selfitis does at least exist. But, since we did not collect any data on the negative psycho-social impacts, we cannot yet claim that the behavior is a mental disorder; negative consequences of the behavior is a key part of that determination.”

Though long term effects have not yet been researched, one can assume that selfitis, like other mental illnesses, might have a significant impact on the livelihood of people all over the globe.

Along with the emergence of psychological issues, there has also been a rise in the number of injuries and deaths caused by social media and selfies.

“A new study shows thousands of people are risking their lives, and hundreds have paid the ultimate price for vanity” according to an article on CBS New York.

As more and more people become desperate to get likes and the perfect selfie, a variety of difficult and life-threatening stunts have made the body count rise.

From selfies on the top of tall buildings, in front of sharks and other carnivores, and in front of erupting volcanoes, it seems people have begun to dismiss their own personal safety in order to achieve the confidence and satisfaction of the perfect selfie.

However, for many, the satisfaction cannot be achieved.

A Washington Post news article reports “More than 250 people worldwide have died while taking selfies in the last six years…” with “ the leading cause [of] drowning, followed by incidents involving transportation — for example, taking a selfie in front of an oncoming train — and falling from heights. Other causes of selfie-related deaths include animals, firearms and electrocution.”

The deaths seen through the years could have a direct tie to the influx of social media sites that have taken over the net and the lives of youth, and could even be caused by the role of selfitis.

Problematically, the rise in casualties and accidents in taking selfies has caused countries worldwide to take action and provide context and warning to their citizens. India, being the leading country in selfie fatalities, has taken one of the more extreme routes.

“We have seen people getting too close to the edge or climbing over the rails [of a new bridge] so we try and dissuade them from doing this and inform them that it can endanger their lives,” Atul Kumar Thakur, deputy commissioner of India’s Delhi Police (North East district) said according to a CNN article.

This is not the only measure the country has taken, as they have also put up “no selfie zones” on national landmarks that are favored tourist destinations in order to minimize deaths, especially landmarks that are at greater altitudes and pose higher fatality risks.

Regarding their effectiveness, however, guidance counselor, Mr. Joseph Zimbardo said, “I think it will have an effect [on people], but I don't know if it'll have a positive effect. It's like when you take something away from a child and you tell them ‘Don’t do that, don’t do that’. Now people are going to want to take pictures with the no selfie zone sign or that area to prove that they can take a picture in a no selfie zone.”

Oftentimes people act rebelliously and feel a greater need to do something if they are forbidden from doing it. The true effectiveness of these zones will be seen at a later date, but of the many conflicting opinions, at least governments are attempting to regulate and contain the issue of dangerous selfie-taking, despite the many more steps to be taken.

It’s important to also educate children and the public on the dangers of selfie taking and the new culture we live in. Oftentimes, the more directly involved deaths are the only ones seen, and people continue to believe that they are untouched by cell phone and social media addiction.

Mr. Zimbardo added “You don't hear about [the deaths] too often in the news… so I don't think people are taking them seriously… I think they think of it as a joke… instead of how serious it is that people are trying to do these things on a daily basis.”

The idea of self-love has slowly slipped into the idea of self-hate. The tool that promoted connection has also fostered division. The object, the action, that was supposed to share a piece of our lives has begun to take them, and while it’s important to embrace this new regime of technology, it is just as important to understand its dangers as we work to build a better and greater tomorrow.

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