The Story of Selfies

This week in class we talked about the rise in selfies and “safe selfie spaces” such as the Ice Cream Museum mentioned in @kaitlinardiff‘s blog post. I decided to dig a little deeper into selfies and how these life threatening pictures began.

But first let me take a selfie

Portraits have been around for generations. Royals even have them professionally painted for their “official portrait” which is one of the highest honors. Self portraits have also been around for awhile, although less popular, when a painter would portray themselves. Fast forward to the introduction of technology and cameras and self portraits became a selfie (although the word selfie first appeared in 2002 they were previously referred to as “Photographic self-portraiture“). Besides using a timer, the only way to take a picture of oneself was to turn the camera around and hope that you got a somewhat flattering angle of your face. giphy-3.gif

In 2010 the introduction of the iPhone 4 made this a whole lot easier by having a front facing camera to make taking a flattering selfie even easier. In 2013 it was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary as a word. And from then selfies became mainstream. The irony of the selfie is that the goal is often to appear casual… so how come people go to such extremes to get the perfect picture?

Selfies have been taken by everyone from the Pope to Kim Kardashian to my own mom (#selfiesuz). While most are casual, sometimes unflattering, pictures to immediately share with our social networks, there are a fair share who dare to go above and beyond. There is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to a list compiled of all the injuries/deathssomehow associated with taking a selfie. The main source of dangerous selfies? Driving. In 2014 the U.S. Department of Transportation estimated that 33,000 were injured while driving and using a cell-phone which could include taking a selfie. Other common sources of selfie injuries and death include drowning and posing with a firearm.giphy-4.gif

The first reported death by selfie was in 2011 and occurred when three teenagers were hit by a train shortly after taking a selfie on the tracks. Although many others have included a train in some way, shape, or form, others have occurred from taking them in risky situations. Many have drown or fallen to their serious injuries or death just from trying to get that perfect picture.

Selfies are meant to capture a moment, but society has moved so that we do things to create these moments for the selfies. Our culture has become so obsessed with doing something unique that people are risking their lives to take photos like this. While this giphy-2may seem extreme, in 2015 more people died from taking selfies than from shark attacks. Just let that sink in. With so many injuries and deaths this has become a real problem for our selfie obsessed society. One researcher said, “People interact with their surroundings differently when they are taking pictures. They get too attached and involved in the locations, so they often forget about things.” Although these pictures made result in likes on Instagram, they also could result in serious consequences. People are failing to follow safety precautions and warnings in order to go farther for the better picture.

Although selfies are a relatively new phenomenon, humans displayed risky behavior is nothing new. Humans love to seek a thrill and this has carried itself over into taking giphy-1these dangerous selfies. While risky behavior is not new one researcher said: “I can only speculate for now, but selfie deaths are linked to the penetration of technology, availability of smartphones, and the craze of social networks. As long as this is the case, people will look to one up each other’s photos to gain social currency in the form of followers and likes.”

So how do we prevent these crazy injury inducing selfies? There are researchers attempting to develop an app that warns risk takers when their selfie may be too dangerous. The goal is to use location along with being able to identify parts of the picture to warn the photographer. Of course this could prevent a danger in itself by prompting a notification on the phone. Even if this may seem like a silly far fetched problem now, as people continue to up their game this problem could continue. Only time will tell, but in the meantime think before you selfie.


  1. fernanfu89 · ·

    Really interesting article! I have always wondered how selfies came about! Its interesting how fast the adoption of the selfie came about and how people take so much risk just to take one picture. I guess its because in our world today we have the monetary incentive to take these pics, since more followers equals potentially more money. Its interesting how selfies or portraits came about with royalty.

  2. Cool post! I certainly think that selfies and peripheral technology has allowed us to capture moments like never before. Many dessert spots in NYC have also been able to take advantage of selfies and Instagram by designing their interior to be “selfie worthy”. I also think that selfies brought back natural selection. The best tool to prevent a selfie injury is personal judgement and I don’t know how much an app can do to convince someone that it’s not okay to take a selfie in this situation. Nonetheless it would be interesting to see!

  3. Catherine · ·

    Crazy to think about the dangers of the selfie! As we discussed in class, new laws have been passed, for example, prohibiting the use of phones while walking in order to protect people from themselves, definitely in part as a result of the selfie. It would be interesting to look into the monetary impact that selfies have had–with the creation of new apps as well as sponsorships etc that have resulted since the birth and explosion of the selfie movement.

  4. Yvette Zhou · ·

    I never would think about the linkage between selfies and death! But I can see how involved people can be in selfies. I always saw people using selfie sticks to take selfies while traveling. Japan even blocked stick usage for selfies to avoid accidents in selfies. It is very cool to see some research about selfies causing injuries and deaths here. I cannot wait to see the App now!

  5. taylorvanhare · ·

    Super interesting post and it is so crazy to see the development of the selfie over the past years. It is honestly embarrassing in my opinion that our generation has become so self-obsessed that we have lost the ability to “safely” take a picture. The social media obsession with capturing the perfect photo is ridiculous with people going to such extreme lengths for a single shot. I also argue though that the idea of the “selfie” has become more of a joke these days. Individuals are taking a selfie in a comedic way to poke fun at those who take them so seriously. The notion of selfies has almost lost its “coolness” factor in a way one could argue?

  6. alyssacasale4 · ·

    I completely agree with @taylorvanhare in that today, selfies are looked upon as more of a joke, rather than the perfect photo. I think that one of the reasons for this is because of how popular Snapchat has become in the past few years. Every second, 8,796 photos are sent on Snapchat, and a majority of them are selfies. With the widespread use of filters, that often make people look like a pancake (today’s sponsorship on Snapchat is by IHop) or the typical dog, people often take their selfies for past-time entertainment. I also think that Snapchat is a main contributor to the amount of accidents while driving. Ever since Snapchat added the option to have how fast you are going appear on your photo, many people have been more inclined to risk the 5 second snapchat while at the wheel. Snapchat has responded to this by adding a “Do not Snap and Drive” line, but I still do not think it’s enough. I definitely agree that as technology grows, so will the amount of selfie-related accidents. Nice post!

  7. whitmcdonald2 · ·

    Hilary- awesome turnaround after talking about this for just a few minutes in class! It’s really interesting that our society is “demanding” designated places for picture taking. Places like the Museum of Ice Cream are not only conducive to the instant gratification of post worthy pictures, but also to your point, the safety of taking pictures! With a closed environment, people are less likely to injure themselves- but someone will find a way to get hurt with those sprinkles.

    I actually witnessed this urge to take an incredible photo first hand while abroad. At the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, our tour guide was very vocal about the amount of deaths that has happened for photos each year of the cliffs. He reminded us of the dangers, the guides, and that the cliffs were not responsible for injuries if you went past the barriers. At first, I laughed and thought people must be really dumb in order to fall off an edge that is very clearly there… then I got out there and with the rain, the wind, and the mud, I was slipping around. I immediately turned around and got behind a gate. It freaked me out but as I was getting more photos, some guy was go-proing himself running on the edge. NOT Kidding! He quickly turned around and posed for the video and he slipped!! I thought he was for sure going over and I immediately closed my eyes, everyone screamed, and i thought about the therapy I would need in order to get over that moment. Everyone let out a big sigh and I opened my eyes to the surprising result that he was still there. He just laughed and then moved along- WHAT?? anyways, SO SCARY! These stats are not just random stories and ridiculous myths- people are dying! It’s crazy.

    Thanks for the post!

  8. Interesting post. I like the recognition that selfies are really nothing new.

  9. Nice post! I am shocked that more people died taking selfies than shark attacks. That blew my mind. It is also interesting to see apps like Facetune that help edit selfies to fix any imperfections. I think that if designers are able to come up with an app that does alert those that take dangerous selfies. I’ll definitely look out for it!

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