Last month, a person on Facebook shared some photographs asking his friends why most people are willing to put their lives on the line just to take 'selfies'.
At least five photographs in the post showed different people at the Dhaka Zoo standing less than a few inches away from cages of tigers, monkeys and other animals. In some of the photographs, it was clear that in order to take these snaps, these visitors had jumped over the concrete fences that surround some of the cages of very dangerous animals.
Striking a pose looking ever so intently at the camera while standing close to a cage increases the risk of being mauled or getting bitten by animals behind the rusty bars.
This careless or daring intent of taking photographs is a part and parcel of the prevailing 'selfie culture'. The culture is existent among children, teenagers and even adults who share the selfies or 'self portrait' with friends, family members and even total strangers on Facebook and other social media platforms.
In order to get the most positive feedbacks, the person taking the selfie tries to be in situations that will intrigue viewers of the photo. This is why, one can find plenty of selfies of people before animal cages at the zoo, on the ledge of high-rise buildings, hanging from the open door of a speeding train and more, on social media.
If selfie-takers are lucky, they often get away with major and minor injuries. But fatalities from selfies are on the rise across the world. A study by the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, published in October of this year, said that at least 259 people died while taking selfies between October 2011 and November 2017. Researchers in India came up with the number after going through media reports across the world.
The researchers also listed the main causes of selfie related deaths. The highest was through drowning as people fell while posing from boats or while standing close to water bodies. Then came those people killed while posing in front of a speeding train, others who fell from high places or mountains and those who tried to take pictures with dangerous animals.
The latest casualties, likely to be added to this list, are an Indian couple, who fell to their deaths in Yosemite National Park in Calfornia around the third week of October.
Meenakshi Moorthy (30) and her husband, Vishnu Viswanath (29) had set up their cameras near a ledge before a scenic overlook in the park, said Viswanath's brother to the Associated Press on October 30. The next morning, visitors at the park found the lone tripod camera and alerted park rangers, who used high-powered binoculars to spot the two bodies about 245 metres below Taft Point. Taft Point is a ledge that offers a spectacular view of the Yosemite Valley below. The rangers later used helicopters to airlift the bodies.
AP went through Moorthy's social media profile to find numerous selfies of Vishwanath and her at several high points at different spots of the USA including the Grand Canyon, and in other parts of the world.
Many similar incidents have occurred in other countries as well, driving governments to take steps to address the situation. In neighbouring India, following a number of selfie-related deaths and in a bid to safeguard tourists, the tourism ministry in April asked state government officials to install signs in areas where accidents had occurred, thus declaring them "no-selfie zones".
While death is the worst outcome from the selfie culture, there are other negative aspects to it. Psychologists in the Western world have found that selfie culture imbues in children the thought process that they should concentrate on themselves and ignore the needs of others. Social media has given children, teenagers and young adults with a free platform where they can post their selfies and instantly gain positive feedback. Such feedback almost always leads to self-obsession and narcissism, affecting empathy. As a result, most psychologists fear that future generations would have more egoists than selfless individuals who would want to help others.
Besides, negative feedback on selfies can lower the persons' self-esteem, driving them towards depression. There is also the tendency among young adults to have selfie addiction.
A 2017-study, titled "An Exploratory Study of 'Selfitis' and the Development of the Selfitis Behaviour Scale", created a Selfitis Behaviour Scale (SBS) to classify selfie-obsessed people into degrees of exhibiting selfitis. The study found that most people who took more than 20 to 30 selfies per day suffer from a lack of self-confidence. In a bid to 'fit in' with their surroundings, the selfie-obsessed people "display symptoms similar to other potentially addictive behaviours". Selfies also allow bullies and online predators to target children and teenagers. The exposed background in selfies can make it more convenient for any predator to determine the location of the person at a certain time.
In order to protect children from addiction and other hazards of selfie culture, parents need to be aware of the activities of their children. Parents should not restrict their children from taking selfies altogether as that can lead to conflicts with the children. Parents and peers should teach their children that the negative and positive feedbacks on selfies in virtual platforms cannot affect their self-esteem in reality. They should be taught that they are unique in their own qualities, physical appearance and traits and they do not have to be perfect.
Some people still believe that selfies can act as outlets of self-expression and creativity and can also boost self-esteem.
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