Selfie deaths: time to raise awareness

Three boys from Bengaluru were crushed under a train they were hoping to capture in their selfie last week. In the week before that, a 17-year-old boy drowned in a pond even as his friends were clicking selfies. Earlier this year, in southern Bengal, five young men died trying to save one who was taking a selfie hanging off a railway door. In Chennai this July, 48 people were killed when gas cylinders burst after a fire at a bakery. Local police claimed that many of them were busy taking selfies. The obsession with selfies is not unique to India, it has become a worldwide phenomenon. Only, it seems to have gone completely out of control, and with deadly effect, in India. In a study, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi (IIIT-D) scoured public records to compile a list of 127 deaths associated with selfies worldwide between March 2014 and September 2016. India accounted for a whopping 60% of these deaths.

Selfie, a simple word that describes the act of photographing oneself by holding up a smartphone at an arm’s length, has become immersed in our culture. It has been officially entered into the Oxford English Dictionary and was its ‘Word of the Year’ for 2013. Political leaders, celluloid stars and sport icons have glamourised it to an extent that it has become an uncontrollable craze. Easy and affordable access to camera-equipped phones has brought it within the common man’s reach. Mobile phone companies extolling the virtues of selfies and the latest ‘selfiestan’ craze, using software to ‘beautify’ selfies automatically, have fanned the fire. Indian youth has got its hands on a powerful tool of self-projection and gratification. What initially started as the fun act of capturing a picture of oneself without the use of a photographer has now become behaviour that can lead to addiction, narcissism, and even death.

The trend appears to be on the rise. In 2014, 15 deaths due to selfies were uploaded on Google globally. The figure rose to 39 in 2015 and 73 in 2016. This year, it is likely to reach one selfie-related death a day. Things are so bad that tourism authorities are putting up no-selfie signs at sites that could pose a danger. Mumbai has banned selfies from 16 sites, including the promenades at Bandra and Worli. But this hasn’t stopped people from trying and, unfortunately, dying in the process. Since they have caused unintended consequences through their products, while promoting their latest technology, perhaps it is time to require mobile phone manufacturers to run public awareness campaigns about responsible use of the selfie camera.
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