Ingeborg van Teeseling

About Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland fifteen years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website, and runs, telling people's life stories.

Filtered Darwinism: The 259 people killed by selfies may be the lucky ones

It was recently revealed that the humble selfie has taken 259 lives. You know what? Of course, they have. 



In the last six years, 259 people have died while taking selfies. Did you know that? 259 mostly young people, between 10 and 30 years old, are no longer with us because they were writing a virtual “I was here”. Or maybe because they were incredibly vain or a tad narcissistic. Or just stupid, who knows. So you take a selfie and then you drown, fall from a height, get eaten by an animal, shot, electrocuted. Or, my particular favourite: run over by a train. Because you take a selfie while the train is coming at you. Makes complete sense, doesn’t it? Oh, no, sorry, there is another one: this May, apparently, in India, somebody posed in front of an injured bear. And got mauled. Nasty animal; no sense of Instagram. This is serious research, by the way, and some countries, like Russia, India and Indonesia, have taken official measures. “No selfie” zones, for instance, and “safe selfies” campaigns.

I live in the Illawarra. When it is a nice day, a lot of helicopters come over, and you have to be careful to get out of the way of police and ambulance with sirens. There are two reasons for this. The first one is the Sea Cliff Bridge, near Stanwell Park. I walked this Bridge when it opened in 2005 and it was a joy. Ocean, on one hand, escarpment on the other, rising high and untamed from rock platforms below. So I understand why people come to look at the beauty of it, and take pictures of themselves with the bridge and nature in the background. But recently, social media has spread the story of a “secret lookout”, high up on the hill. It is a place you can only get to if you walk up a steep track, on ground that is a known slippage area. Signs say it is, and warn people, and there are fences, but nobody takes any notice. Last week, a young man died there, on his way to the lookout, to take a selfie. He stood on some loose gravel and fell 60 meters to his death. The next day, people were again ignoring the warnings and going up. They laughed when locals told them they could die. Apparently, their Instagram account was more important.

Now I wonder: are selfie-deaths just another way of going for the Darwin Award? Or do we really have a problem with narcissism?

The other selfie-opportunity is at the Figure Eight Pools in the Royal National Park. As you might know, I’ve written a book about the shack communities in the Royal, so this place is close to my heart. That is why it hurts me to see it go to sh*t because of the selfie-mania. Again, I understand the attraction of the pools. They are beautiful. But are they worth people’s lives? Last year, a 22-year old almost died when he, again, took a photo, slipped, fell and suffered critical injuries. The helicopter crew who came to his aid had to spend two hours on the rock platform, trying to stabilise him, before they could take him to hospital. It was only the most serious of a string of accidents there. Until the next one, the fatal one. In a way, I don’t care about the people getting hurt. If they want to take that responsibility, fine. My problem has to do with the consequences for the National Park itself. The track littered with McDonald’s boxes, tampons, used toilet paper, human poo and whatever else people think they can just leave behind. The shackies who have to spend their time bandaging stupid casualties or catering for people who haven’t thought to bring water on a hot day, and get abused in return. The wallabies and wombats who get chased and killed because people think it is normal to bring their dogs into a National Park. All for the sake of a selfie. Because that is what people do. They walk in, take a photograph of themselves in the pools and walk out again. There is no enjoyment of the beauty of the place. They don’t see where they are, they only see themselves.

Every year, the Darwin Award is handed out to people who have died in the most stupid way imaginable. On the website, an honourable mention was given to a man who jumped off a moving train as it crossed Fremantle Bridge. While waving at a camera, he nearly smacked into a pylon and then into overhead high-voltage wires. He lived, which is why he missed out on the coveted award. If you want to see who won, have a look at the site. It will amuse and astound you. There are even deaths in categories: guns, electricity, elephants, chainsaws, and the like. So now I wonder: are selfie-deaths just another way of going for the Darwin Award? Or do we really have a problem with narcissism, or as I like to call it, out-Trumping Trump? Are we all so incredibly interested in our own navels that we can’t see the others, or the outside world anymore? Is it only about me, me, me, and to hell with everything and everybody else? Maybe we all aspire to becoming Melania, the selfie-taking, pith-helmet-wearing, colonial-with-Pickaninnies, first lady of stupid. Darwin would turn in his grave.


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