Is Indians and cellphones’ love story at risk because of selfies ?

In beginning of January, in Bombay, three young women fell in the sea while taking a selfie on the Marine Drive promenade; one of them drowned together with the man who rescued the two other girls. Following this dramatic incident, the municipality noted down 16 no-selfies zones. From now on, it is illegal to take selfies in those areas.

Signboards have been installed and rescuers teams are patrolling. Nonetheless, no fine has been planned for people breaching the interdiction. Authorities are also discussing if selfies should not be declared a public safety issue. The debate oscillates between the importance of maintaining individual freedom and the necessity to recognize the dangers going along with the selfie practice.

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A Sikh pilgrim takes a selfie in front of the holy lake of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Penjab. February 2016. Photo credit: CrossWorlds/Anouch Carracilly


Indeed, in the last decade, a new phenomenon has emerged all over the world; the selfie-related deaths. Those accidents occur mainly in touristic spots where people tend to take risks to shoot the best picture. According to a recent Washington post report, more people died taking selfies in India than anywhere else in the world.

Selfies : « a public safety issue »

Indeed, the list of deadly accidents is worrisome and does not seem to slow down. Last September, a student fell in a gulch and died in Tamil Nadu while taking a selfie and, a few days later, a Japanese tourist slipped on the stairs of the Taj Mahal while attempting to take a selfie and died from head injuries. The Times of India published two articles entitled « Selfies kill more people than shark attacks » and « Selfie madness, a public safety issue now ». Last November, it was a 14-years-old boy who tried to take a selfie on the top of a train and consequently got electrocuted, in March a group of teenagers drowned after their boat flipped over in Nagpur Lake due to an unbalance as they were gathering around the phone to take a selfie.

« We had no time to reflect on the effects of these new tools, we do not know how to use them with intelligence and discipline », regrets Indian sociologist Avijit Pathak « While in the West, technology arrived progressively, in a Third World country like ours, it arrived in such an hasty way that our society did not have time to adapt. Thus, there is a difference of maturity. When you’re hungry for something, and suddenly you can have it without restrain then, you eat it too much and you vomit. »

A young man taking a selfie in a Park, New Delhi, February 2016. Photo Credit: CrossWorlds/Anouch Carracilly

A young man taking a selfie in a park, New Delhi, February 2016. Photo Credit: CrossWorlds/Anouch Carracilly


Indians and cellphones’ love story

Manish is one addicted among many others. He is a local grocer who also provides internet and phone recharge. He spends most of his day fixing everyone’s phones, giving them advices on how to download new apps, get cheaper subscription or clean their screen. Phones are his passion. « I love my phone more than my wife…no…maybe as much as her, » he says. Indians and phones live a true love story.

In western societies, it is common to hear discourses extolling a « disconnected » life as well as warnings against addiction to techonology and narcissists behaviours. On the contrary, Indians seem to have a very uninhibited usage of cellphones and a quite egocentric one. It is not unusual that someone has his/her own picture as a phone wallpaper. When it would tend to be considered ridiculous in Europe, the sight of individuals grinning to their phones in public places is absolutely common.

This passion is shared by all social classes. “In the very remote areas of the Himalayas, in the small villages of Uttarakhand, there are no hospitals, no clean water, no teacher in the school… » sociologist Avijit Pathak describes. « But people have phones. It is incredible the way technology colonized those places, the minds and values of those people. They are ready to sacrifice money on gadgets while they don’t have access to basic need”.

A rickshaw-vala (driver) in New Delhi.February 2016. Photo Credit: CrossWorlds/Anouch Carracilly

A rickshaw-wala (driver) in New Delhi, February 2016. Photo Credit: CrossWorlds/Anouch Carracilly


« We have been oppressed »

According to sociologist Avijit Pathak, this infatuation for narcissist gadgets such as selfies and Instagram is to be found in the recent history of India, moreover in its condition of colony. « We have been oppressed by a lot of restrictions, cultural taboos, and this feeling of oppression has been amplified by the colonial period. We felt we could not express ourselves and would not be heard. Then suddenly, these new gadgets that are phones have emerged enabling us to communicate almost without any restrictions. »

« So far I was not able to express myself and now, suddenly, I can but I can’t see any other alternative than to express myself only ‘through myself’ in an egocentric manner. »

A man uses a selfie-stick to take a picture in the streets of Amristar, Penjab. February 2016. Photo Credits: CrossWorlds/Anouch Carracilly

A man uses a selfie-stick to take a picture in the streets of Amristar, Penjab. February 2016. Photo Credits: CrossWorlds/Anouch Carracilly


Apparently, India is not the only country with Narcisse’s descendants. Russia is also facing issues regarding selfie-related deaths. The country launched an awareness campaign following the deaths of people posing with guns or grenades. The USA also created no-selfies zones in touristic spots like the Great Canyon or Yellow Stone Park after dramatic incidents. Thus, so far, the measures taken are weak and temporary. In the future, States such as India might have to address selfie-related deaths in a serious manner, the application of fines in case of breaching of the law might be a more durable solution. The current judicial gap concerning the usage of recently created gadgets will also be a challenge to tackle in the following years.

Anouch Carracilly

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