Just Saying

Death by selfie: why are so many people dying so needlessly?

Yonden Lhatoo examines new research on selfie deaths around the world, and cites examples in Hong Kong of people risking life and limb to capture the ‘perfect’ moment with their smartphones

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 4:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 11:02pm

In between my sets at the gym recently, I watched a train wreck in slow motion as a trendy young woman in full make-up got on a treadmill to take selfies with her smartphone.

She was “jogging” at a snail’s pace, holding up her phone at experimental angles to capture the perfect duck face, when she missed her footing. The moving treadmill appeared to chew her up and spit her out, depositing her in a crumpled heap on the floor, while her phone landed several feet away.

Any initial concern I might have felt instantly dissipated when I saw her scramble to her feet and prioritise picking up her phone to inspect it – whether to check for damage or ascertain how that all-important selfie turned out, I couldn’t say.

What I can say is that mucking around on a moving treadmill was mind-numbingly stupid and she was lucky to end up bruising her ego more than her body. Even as I write this, people like her are regularly maiming or killing themselves elsewhere.

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According to research made public this week by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, some 259 deaths by selfie were reported worldwide between October 2011 and November 2017. The number surged from just three in 2011 to 98 in 2016.

Keep in mind the real tally could be much higher because of under-reporting – a selfie-taker killed in a car crash while driving, for example, would simply be listed as a road accident victim.

Interestingly, India recorded the highest number of deaths by selfie – accounting for more than half the total – followed by Russia and the US.

More than 70 per cent of the victims were millennial males – insert eye-roll here – even though more women in general tend to take pictures of themselves. Researchers put that down to men being disposed to taking bigger risks to capture the “best” shot – or maybe women are just smarter at the end of the day, albeit with exceptions such as the extreme treadmill exhibitionist at my gym.

Drowning was listed as the leading cause of death by selfie (standing in front of a giant wave or balancing on the edge of a boat for a “cool” picture), followed by transport accidents (posing in front of a moving train for a “gutsy” souvenir), falling from heights and fire. Guns and dangerous animals, too.

“The youth and tourists are frequently affected because of the desire of ‘being cool’, posting photos on social media and getting rewards in forms of likes and comments,” the researchers said.

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They suggested designating “no-selfie zones” in potentially dangerous tourist-heavy areas, such as mountaintops, tall buildings and bodies of water.

Let’s face it, selfies and social media are mostly about narcissism, insecurity, low self-esteem and overall yearning for appreciation. The polite term for all this compulsive picture-taking and posting is “impression management”, as in trying to influence others to see you the way you want to be seen. Whatever floats your boat, but is it worth dying for?

We haven’t reported a selfie death in Hong Kong yet, but we’ll get there – just give the boneheads with their smartphones some time.

One of the popular “underground” attractions for mostly mainland tourists these days is the rooftop of a 10-storey building in Sham Shui Po. As we reported this week, “Thrill-seeking visitors scale a two-metre tall fence just to dangle their legs off the edge for a photo to brag about: when captured at an appropriate angle, a colourful building opposite ... forms the perfect backdrop.”

Another offbeat selfie magnet for tourists and locals alike is a rickety old wooden pier in Sai Wan. They‘re lining up and taking turns to walk to the edge of the damaged platform for a prime photo-op, disregarding the risk of an unpleasant accident.

In the immortal words of comedian Russell Peters, “Somebody gonna get a-hurt real bad.” Don’t say nobody warned you.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post