The current pointless passion for selfies is a much bigger cause for concern than most people realise. The most fanatical devotees of the selfie clearly suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD ), as I will illustrate with examples.
But one of the biggest worries is the number of deaths that have been directly or indirectly caused by selfies.
Endless silly pictures
In recent years more people have died taking a selfie than have been killed by sharks. So far nobody has been killed by a shark while taking a selfie, but given some time it’s sure to happen.
It’s also about time we started taking the problem seriously and at least stop treating the selfie habit as harmless or admirable.
In a recent column I wrote about the guy who shot three people live on television and filmed himself doing so, then posted the video on Facebook. However, this time we’re not discussing killers who take selfies to advertise their heinous deeds, but people devoted to taking endless silly pictures of themselves – even when it places them at considerable physical risk.
‘Get on with it and jump’
A simple web search will reveal a large number of selfies involving fatalities. What this says about the human race worries me greatly.
Police commented with disgust on a jeering crowd who took selfies while watching a suicidal man sitting on the roof of a multi-storey car park for a number of hours. Nobody tried to help; they booed and yelled, “Get on with it and jump.” He did – and died. It’s not clear when the crowd stopped taking pictures.
A physics professor walking a popular mountain hiking trail in America was so busy taking pictures of himself that he lost his balance and fell to his death. In South Africa a woman died after falling from Northcliff Hill in Johannesburg as a male friend was setting up to take a shared selfie.
In April 2014, a woman driver in North Carolina was snapping selfies of herself listening to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” and updating her Facebook profile – all of this while driving at speed. Seconds after her last selfie, accompanied by the line “The happy song makes me so HAPPY”, she crashed into a truck and was killed.
Read: Woman killed by selfie
A well-known Puerto Rican pop star took a selfie while riding his motorcycle, and uploaded his last snap to Instagram moments before a fatal crash. A recent popular track of his was "Me Descontrolo" ("I lose control").
In Portugal, in 2014, a holidaying Polish couple, trying for a selfie on the edge of a cliff, climbed over the safety barrier and fell hundreds of feet to their death. Tragically, this was witnessed by their two young children.
Earlier this year, two young Russian men blew themselves up, taking a selfie while holding a hand grenade with the pin pulled out. The cellphone with their picture survived undamaged.
Three Indian students died trying to take a selfie, showing what brave daredevils they were, in front of an oncoming train.
In Indonesia, a man of 21, trying to take the ultimate selfie, fell into the crater of the active volcano, Mount Merapi, and died.
In San Diego, California, a man was lucky to survive after trying to take a selfie with a live rattlesnake.
During a Spanish bull running festival, a man died trying to take a selfie. He had his back to the bulls and was fatally gored in the neck and thigh.
And so on.
I have no sympathy for these silly people, but rather for their families and friends and any others injured or psychologically scarred by these events.
Read: Childhood bullying can leave lifelong scars
They are worthy of the Darwin Award, commemorating those who “improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it”. People this stupid and thoughtless are a menace to society and will not be missed.
A curious phenomenon
Nobody seems to accept or trust ordinary reality until it has been mediated and sieved through a gadget. As I have mentioned before, people witnessing an important historic occasion, or travellers visiting a world-famous landmark don’t actually bother to look at what’s in front of them, but whip out their cellphone and take as many pictures or video clips of the scene as possible, to enjoy later – that’s if they’re not too busy recording other stuff.
Read: Cellphone addiction driven by materialism
Nowadays, however, a simple picture or video isn’t enough anymore; it must be a selfie. We all know the torture of being trapped in someone’s lounge, being forced to watch their holiday snaps or videos, but at least you saw some scenery, not just picture after picture of your host leering at his phone with tiny, barely visible morsels of landmarks behind them. (Is that the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building? Hard to tell behind all that hair!)
I noticed something odd in the recent news reports of the Pope’s visit to America. At first it seemed to me as though masses of people were demonstrating their distaste for the Church by turning their back on the pontiff – then it dawned on me that they had all turned around to take a selfie of their own grinning face, with a scrap of papal white in the background.
Curious habits of obsessive ‘selfers’
We all know people who are devoted to capturing every waking moment with a duck-faced selfie. But goodness knows why pretty women insist on pulling faces when taking selfies. Countless pictures of yourself staring into the phone are bad enough, so why force your face to resemble a duck-billed platypus?
A couple of pictures a week is tolerable, but many people take dozens of pictures of themselves each day. I came across the sad story of Danny Bowman, a British teen, who dropped out of school, where he’d been sneaking out of class three or more times an hour to go to the bathroom to take more pictures of himself.
He didn’t leave his home for six months and lost a considerable amount of weight while taking over 200 selfies a day. He apparently wanted “the perfect selfie” and became so despondent at being unable to capture the elusive image of perfection that he attempted suicide.
Read: A suicide epidemic
Is it a profound lack of self-esteem (and discomfort with actual physical intimacy with others) that leads people to keep taking pictures of themselves and posting them on social media? Are they trying to create an idealised image of themselves, rather than improving their social skills and actual attractiveness? How banal!
There’s a craving for admiration and validation as a kind of conspiracy: you post the self-portraits, expecting your friends and contacts to tell you how marvellous you look, and to indicate that they “like” you. “You pretend to ‘like’ me, and I’ll pretend to ‘like’ you.” It has nothing whatsoever to do with being artistic and excludes any genuine social connections.
Such research as has been done isn’t encouraging. Selfie addicts turn out to be narcissistic, impulsive, vain and lacking in empathy for others. These people are so awash with empathy for themselves they have none left for anyone else.
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Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.