What do high cliff ledges, train tracks, animal game parks, bridges and buildings have in common? They are apparently popular sites for people to take selfies, and places, among others, where over 200 people have died in the last 5 years in pursuit of that “perfect selfie.” The Economic Times of India, a country leading the world in deaths by selfies, reports that 86 people in 2016 and 73 people in 2017 died in this tragic, needless way. Since 2014, 128 have died in the course of taking selfies in this densely populated nation. But other countries are getting involved in trying to stem the tide of such tragedies. Irish doctors reported, “The consequences of poorer spatial awareness and a focus on getting a good or daring photo has lead to multiple traumas” (Indulekha Aravind, 2/18/18). There are people in Russia that have become celebrities because of their daring self-centered photos (ibid.). Nowhere social media has gone is there an exemption from this trend, including here in our country.
Because I do not have a background in psychology, I freely admit I could be wrong about this. But, could these extraordinary lengths to capture oneself in these kinds of photos be an act of desperation for acceptance, friendship, or even love? Could the yearning for admiration, congratulations, and adulation drive people to disregard all restraint and precaution? I’m not sure I know the answer to that.
I do know that, as Henry David Thoreau said in 1854, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Walden, ch. 1, p. 8). Perhaps these daring selfies are a symptom of that sensible observation. With selfies, we are able to project exactly the image or perception of ourselves that we want others to see of us. We don’t publish the unflattering nor do we want to show the boring. We want to be seen as valuable, relevant, and attractive. Why? Though we might lose our way in the process, human nature is to desire community and relationship (cf. Gen. 2:24). There are a great many destructive ways to do that, and being self-obsessed is certainly harmful.
It’s very interesting that God planned the church from eternity (Eph. 3:9-11) as a place and a way for us to focus on others. Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). So much about being Jesus’ disciples gets us outside ourselves and into the lives of others—not just other Christians but people from every walk of life outside of Christ. He wants our energy, effort, and focus to be turned outward. It’s not so much about projection, but about service. Through that, God will be glorified and others can be satisfied. It seems that such is why God has us here!