Last week, a British daredevil and base jumper named Gareth Jones watched the sun rise from a dangerous spot atop a cliff in Sydney, Australia. Jones took a shot of his feet and legs dangling over the edge and posted the selfie to his Instagram account. Three days later, Jones would fall to his death in the very same spot he snapped the precarious picture.
The word “selfie” is now a part of the human language, a term littered in daily conversations between the young, the old, and even those clueless to social media. The word is found in nightly news broadcasts, regional and national newspapers and even in the dictionary. In 2013, the Oxford English dictionary crowned “selfie” as the word of the year.
The history of the selfie is more storied than people realize, even though it’s only become common place with the rise of social media. The history of the act of taking self-portraits, along with a glimpse into why the act is so appealing to millions, will explain the tragedy listed later on in this piece.
A Brief History Of The Selfie
The history of the selfie dates back long before the cell phone and bathroom flex sessions. The first known selfie was taken in 1839 by Robert Cornelius. Cornelius, a pioneer in photography with a background in chemistry and metallurgy, produced a daguerreotype of himself. Cornelius’s picture is also one of the first photographs of a person. The daguerreotype process of developing photos is a slow one, so Cornelius was able to run into the shot, pose, and then replace the lens cap. Cornelius made note on the back of the photo that the selfie was “the first light picture ever taken.”
In 1900, Kodak released the Kodak Brownie box camera, and the selfie shot became more commonplace. These selfie shots usually involved a mirror and the camera stabilized on a nearby shelf or object while framing the shot via a viewfinder at the top of the box. Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna is credited with being the first teenager to take a selfie at the age of 13. Back in 1914, Nikolaevna sent the photo to her friend with a letter which read “I took this photo of myself looking in the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling.” Considering the year and the speed of letter travel at the time, the photo and accompanying letter probably took so long to arrive, Nikolaevna was probably already married with kids.
While these early photos capture the spirit — and egotism — of today’s selfie, the term “selfie” didn’t creep into our vernacular until 2002. The origin of the usage of the word is credited to an Australian internet forum and a comment written by a man named Nathan Hope. Hope wrote in the ABC Online forum “Um, drunk at mates 21st, I tripped ofer and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”
The Danger Of Selfies (Besides Possibly Dying)
Selfies are obviously seeped in narcissism. This Mashable piece accurately sums up the idea of the selfie best, stating “self-image is important, and not always in a narcissistic way. It’s how we define ourselves, and present for others to see. We rely on others’ perceptions, judgments and appraisals to develop our social self.”
Daredevil selfies aren’t the only issue. According to psychiatrist Dr. David Veal, the normal selfie poses a danger to an individual’s psyche and not just their physical well being.
“Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take selfies,” Veal told the Sunday Mirror for a story from March of this year. “Cognitive behavioural therapy is used to help a patient to recognise the reasons for his or her compulsive behaviour and then to learn how to moderate it.”
Veal talked about an extreme case where a young man allegedly spent up to ten hours a day taking hundreds of selfies. He craved to capture “the perfect photo.” He dropped out of school, lost over 28 pounds, and didn’t leave the house for close to six month. Eventually, the behavior led to a failed suicide attempt. All in a futile attempt to capture a picture which probably could never occur because of his low self-opinion.
Gareth Jones wasn’t the first to fall victim to the “death selfie” or to post a photo of himself in a compromising position. At some point in the last few years, the selfie became less about the image of person and more about the background. Selfies of vacations in the Caribbean or aboard million-dollar yachts slowly turned into selfies before skydiving or while running away from dangerous bulls through the streets of Spain. Selfie enthusiasts added an adrenaline element to their self portraits.
The Dangers Of Selfies (Now Comes The Dying)
The case of the “hundred selfies a day” kid is extreme but vital knowledge. While the issues and dangers that selfies pose on the mind and body are important, they’re not always measurable in all people. The actual deaths of people in the name of the awesome and enviable self portrait are quantitative. Here are just some of the tragic cases of deaths linked directly to selfies.
- A 32-year-old woman in North Carolina was killed in a head-on crash with a truck. Investigators were told by her friends and family that she made a Facebook post in the moments before the crash. The woman posted a photo of herself, behind the wheel, reacting to the song “Happy” by Pharrell.
- A month short of her 18th birthday, a teen fell off a railway bridge and was electrocuted by 1,500 volts as she tried to grab wires to break her fall. It’s believed the teen climbed the 30 feet onto the bridge to take a selfie.
- Two men were trampled to death by an elephant in the Kiptagich Forest in Africa. The men were touching the elephants trunk and attempting to take selfies when the beast whipped the two to the ground and trampled over them to flee. The elephant was gunned down by Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service rangers in an attempt to save the men.
- A Polish nursing student fell to her death while trying to take a selfie from the ledge of the Puente de Triana Bridge in Seville, Spain. According to witnesses, the woman lost her footing and fell 15 feet down to the concrete.
- A 16-year-old Italian high school student attempted a selfie during a school trip in southeastern Italy. The young girl fell 60 feet onto jagged rocks and suffered injuries to her femur, pelvis and head. The teen was rushed to the hospital where doctors attempted to save her but she eventually succumb to her injuries.
- A 21-year-old man from northern Mexico wanted a selfie for his Facebook page and used his live firearm as a prop in the picture. The gun discharged and shot him in the head.
- A 13-year-old girl was visiting the El Tunal River in Mexico this past summer. She slipped and fell into the water while taking a selfie and the strong currents swept her away. She drowned and her body was recovered some time after the accident.
- A family vacation in Cabo da Raca, Portugal turned tragic after a mother and father fell to their death while posing beyond a safety barrier over a cliff. Their two young children watched as the couple plummeted to their death.
- A man climbed to the top of the train in Andujar, Andalusia, Spain to try to take a selfie. Unfortunately, during his selfie attempt, he touched a live wire and suffered a 3,500 volt shock which proved to be fatal.
The Oxford people acknowledging the “death selfie” as a term won’t happen in any calendar year but as the selfie becomes as common as breathing and status updates, so too will the tragic stories of people dying in an attempt to impress a virtual audience.
Chris Illuminati isn’t a fan of selfies, whether dangerous or totally safe. Follow him on Twitter @chrisilluminati.