After an Israeli teen fell to his death, I've been forced to re-examine my own relationship with selfies

A few years ago, I was in the Vatican, gazing up at the Sistine Chapel. My boyfriend at the time sensed my angst. He looked at me, disappointed, and said, 'You're thinking of how you can take a selfie, aren't you?' I was

Shaparak Khorsandi
Tuesday 04 December 2018 11:36
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Taking selfies at Yosemite is a common pastime for visitors – but one visiting teen met a tragic end this week because of it
Taking selfies at Yosemite is a common pastime for visitors – but one visiting teen met a tragic end this week because of it

In the news this week I read that an 18-year-old boy fell 800ft and died as he tried to take a selfie at the edge of a waterfall in Yosemite National Park.

Do we, as parents, not have enough to worry about already? His poor mother. From when he was little, she would have warned him to wrap up against the cold, to eat his greens otherwise he won't grow strong. She would have instilled in him the term "stranger danger", trained him to cross roads sensibly and before the young Israeli set off on this wonderful adventure in America, she would have kissed him goodbye and told him to take care of himself.

Except his world was very different to the one she grew up in. Her son was raised in the culture of “likes”, reporting his every experience on social media rather than living in the moment.

It seems now, next to “don't go off with a stranger” or “look both ways before you cross the road”, we now have to tell our kids: “Don't lean over backwards when you're standing in a canyon because no amount of Instagram likes is worth breaking your mother’s heart.” It's maddening. He's not the first and I doubt he will be the last.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: selfies are a pox on us all and the sooner our culture tires of this soulless, narcissistic practice, the better. I want to go back to the halcyon days when picture-taking was more natural – when we are laughing so hard that our faces looked like a scrunched-up paper bag or perhaps are in the midst of a deep and meaningful chat at a Christmas party about a friend’s divorce and have completely forgotten we are wearing an orange paper party hat.

Selfies don't capture a moment – they kill it. I know, because I used to be pretty obsessed with them myself.

Man survives 50-foot drop after slipping down waterfall - while trying to take selfie

A few years ago, I was in the Vatican, gazing up at the Sistine Chapel. My boyfriend at the time sensed my angst at the “no photo” signs we had seen. He looked at me, disappointed, and said, “You're thinking of how you can take a selfie, aren't you?” Yes, I was. And all I took away from seeing one of the Wonders of the World, was how relieved I was that I'd snuck one in.

The desire to document the moment wrecked my chance of treasuring it. My memory of that day isn't of seeing Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel; it is of my boyfriend seething, exasperated with me, and me eyeing the security guard, heart-in-mouth, taking a bloody picture and not being able to rest until I'd posted it. I might as well have visited McDonald's for all the joy I got out of it. It becomes a compulsion to do something at the expense of everything else: your enjoyment, the happiness of your partner, and, in the most tragic cases, your own life.

The same boyfriend threatened to leave me at Glastonbury one year when the Dalai Lama surprised the crowd by joining Patti Smith on stage. Instead of looking at the stage, I scrambled around looking for my phone which I’d tucked into my bra and took pictures of the Dalai Lama as my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend stood there in anger. I managed to ruin his moment as well as my own, but I also managed to record Patti Smith yelling at the crowd to “put your phones down and live in the f**king moment” which I promptly posted on Facebook, while my boyfriend’s love for me drained from him forever.

The best photos of us are taken by other people. They are not the ones from the same flattering angle, with the same “photo face” taken by ourselves.

One of the sweetest, funniest sights I have ever seen is my dad sliding down a wide slide at Center Parcs in a star shape, spinning as he went down, just after the lifeguard told him spinning is not allowed. He is a small man who looks like wholemeal Willy Nelson. I often play the vision back in my mind and have a little chuckle. No one took a picture of it. It's my own little piece of joy that I share with people when I feel like it.

I've stopped taking my phone out when I'm with my children too. As long as they are with me, there are no emergencies that cannot wait and frankly, I hope they never have the time to sit and look at the thousands of photos I've taken of them; they should always be too busy having adventures. I hope one day they will be staring up at the Sistine Chapel holding on to nothing except perhaps the hand of their dear old mum – who would very much like to see it again.

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