by Jim Lynch

Stupid people and iPhone selfie deaths

Nov 22, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsiPhoneMobile

The iPhone is a fantastic tool, but caution and common sense are in order if you are going to use it to take selfies in exotic locations or potentially dangerous situations.

Sometimes you really just have to stand back in awe of the dumb things people do with their iPhones. It never ceases to amaze me when I find out that somebody somewhere has come up with a new and amazingly foolish way of using the iPhone’s camera technology.

So imagine the eye-rolling I did when I caught a recent story in the New York Post about people dying when trying to take selfies. The report did not specify which phones people were using, but the iPhone is one obvious tool given it’s popularity around the world.

Joshua Rhett Miller reports for the New York Post:

More people are dying for the perfect selfie.

A new study – titled, “Me, Myself and My Killfie: Characterizing and Preventing Selfie Deaths” – found that 127 people have died in a 29-month span through last September while trying to get photos of themselves at dangerous or exotic locations.

The most common factor behind the so-called “selfie deaths” – defined as a death of an individual or group that could have been avoided had the individual(s) not been taking a selfie – was a fall from an elevated location like buildings or mountains. Deaths involving both elevation and water were next, followed by fatalities involving trains, according to researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania and two colleges in India.

Researchers found a total of eight factors behind the deaths, including weapons, vehicles, electricity and animals. The earliest reference to a selfie-involved death was published in March 2014, they found. Since then, a total of 15 deaths were tallied in 2014, followed by 39 last year and 73 deaths through September in 2016, according to the study.

More at The New York Post

Deaths in Yellowstone National Park

I suppose that none of this should have surprised me, given how people often do dumb and dangerous things for photos and other reasons. For example, I read an interesting book a while back called “Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park.”


I was shocked at the sheer number of deaths that have occurred in Yellowstone over the years (going all the way back to the very beginning of the park), and the reasons for those deaths.

Everything from one woman who died trying to get a better photo (this was back before smartphones even existed) by backing up until she fell 400 feet to her death, to people who just can’t resist trying to get close to grouchy bison, to a guy who dove head first into a 200 degree hot spring to save a dog then died himself shortly afterward (and he did it despite people telling him that the pool was dangerous before he dove in).

The rangers at the park try their best to make people aware of the dangers, but many visitors either don’t pay attention to them or they simply choose to ignore the rangers, often with fatal consequences. There’s not much the rangers can do, our national parks are not petting zoos or places to walk around with your head in the clouds.

I can only imagine the stupidity occurring in our national parks now that everybody has a camera in their pocket thanks to smartphones. I would certainly not want to be in the shoes of a ranger trying to inform people about the dangers of the parks as the dingbat visitors ignore them while checking their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

One woman was recently gored by a bison while trying to take the perfect selfie by getting too close to the animal. I wonder if that photo was really worth getting attacked by a critter that can weigh up to a ton and who can easily toss an adult human being up into the air with its horns?

Selfie deaths and social media

One of the biggest reasons why people expose themselves to danger when taking selfies is the desire to gain attention or approval on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. These narcissists want to outshine their friends or family, or create an adventurous image of themselves by posting selfies of them in exotic places or dangerous situations.

In some ways it reminds me of Timothy Treadwell and Steve Irwin. Those guys were doing the same sort of thing for television, they got very close to brown bears and other wildlife and it all went well until it didn’t, and they both died.

I wrote a blog post about Timothy Treadwell back in 2003 and it still gets traffic. People seem fascinated by other human beings that put themselves at risk of injury and death to get a photo or video, and that interest continues to this very day.

selfie shark attack

The social media addicts who take dangerous selfies are really following in the footsteps of Treadwell and Irwin (albeit for a different medium), and some of them have paid the same price by dying to capture a photo or video.

Check out this long list of selfie deaths for some examples of this phenomenon from around the world. The big standout for me was the chinese guy who was drowned by a walrus while trying to take selfies with the critter. Drowned by a walrus? What a way to go, sheesh!

Selfie deaths are just a new manifestation of a timeless problem

The situation we’re seeing now with selfie deaths via smartphones like the iPhone is really nothing new. It’s just a new manifestation of an age old problem with human beings. Sometimes we just don’t use our common sense and in not doing so we set ourselves up for serious injury or death.

As much as I hate to say it, get used to reading about selfie deaths. They aren’t going to stop or go away. You can’t protect people from themselves, no matter how hard you try, and my guess is that we’ll see an increase in these kinds of deaths as people try to outdo each other with their selfies.

Yes, that’s a rather grim way of looking at selfie deaths, but it’s also quite realistic based on patterns of human behavior throughout our history. There are always going to be people that do stupid things in dangerous places and situations in order to show off to their family or friends. 

Selfies are just a new reason for people to die.

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