Selfied to death

26 Feb 2015

"In Greek mythology, Narcissus was ... known for his beauty [and] proud, in that he disdained those who loved him," says Wikipedia. "Nemesis (the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris) noticed this behavior and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus drowned."

Narcissus would have loved the selfie-stick. You can't drown in a smartphone-image, but that doesn't mean the now-popular vehicle of self-obsession can't have lethal consequences.

Probable cause
According to NBC News, selfies "probably" contributed to a fatal 2011 plane crash. "Federal investigators have concluded that the pilot of a small plane that crashed last year was taking selfies during the flight, and that the flash from his cellphone probably distracted and disoriented him, contributing to the accident", said NBC (both pilot and passenger were killed).

"The National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] reported that a GoPro recording device was found near the wreckage", said the network. "It revealed that the selfies were taken, with a flash, during the takeoff, the climb and the flight pattern". According to The Register, "The NTSB's concluding statement [includes]: “Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s distraction due to his cell phone use while maneuvering at low-altitude"."

But you don't need to be a pilot to self-endanger with selfies. There's even a forum on popular site devoted to "death-by-selfie". The forum allows any Reddit member to post or view links to news articles about those who've paid the "Narcissus price" for their narcissistic devotion. Not for the squeamish.

Stay selfie-safe
Of course, most selfie-fanatics survive with little more than temporary retina-burn. The hyperbolic stories typically involve activities that are inherently dangerous: clambering on high places or train tracks for a dramatic photo-op, for example.

But that doesn't mean that fiddling with digital controls or worrying about photo composition is a good idea when piloting an automobile or other activity that requires focus and concentration. There are laws against using a hands-on mobile phone while driving, for example. Same principle here.

There are far more instances of "misadventure-by-selfie" – bumping into someone, stepping in a puddle, stumbling and breaking something...hopefully your shoe rather than your ankle. As we focus our collective gaze on the magic box that magically re-creates our image in the realm of social media, sometimes we take our eyes off our immediate surroundings. And that – as the MTR likes to remind us – isn't a good practice.

The ever-present camera
I'm glad I always have a camera with me nowadays. It provides a means of visual identification for everything from "what kind of hot sauce?" supermarket-fun to documentation of a serious and/or newsworthy incident, if needed. And as it's powered by a computer, it can instantly glean information from QR codes and barcodes.

But like Narcissus, who loved his own image so much it killed him, smartphone users can become entranced with the "hall of mirrors": selfies replicated through social media.

The self-reflexive camera isn't meant to be exclusively self-reflective. Endless obsession with self can be a symptom of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), defined by Wikipedia as a "personality disorder in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and to others in the process."

"Destructive damage" is redundant, but if it prevents a pilot from blinding themselves to potential dangers by blinding themselves with selfie-flashes, maybe it's time to double-down on the warnings.

Mobile phones are distracting. Don't distract yourself when you need to concentrate.

Like when you're flying a plane. Or crossing the street.

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