Taking selfies: The most offensive travel invention?

I realised recently that, despite all my travels, I had few photographs of myself in exotic locations.

Part of this is my aversion to taking what is now known as a "selfie". I attempt the occasional one, but the selfie has had such a bad rap lately, I find it embarrassing to be caught in public pouting into my camera screen and turning my head to get the best angle.

I'm pretty much alone in this, I think. In Tokyo recently, I couldn't see the Meiji Shrine for hoards of young girls taking photos of themselves in their new spring finery.

I've often wondered if future societies will look back at this time and wonder what on earth we were doing, just as that old TV show Talkin Bout My Generation pitted Gen Y against the Baby Boomers in trying to guess cultural items from each era.

The gesture may look particularly stupid. Even now, Selfie Stupidity is a thing. When 26-year-old Ben Innes took a selfie of himself with the hijacker of Egypt Air flight 181 recently the internet went into meltdown.

"I got one of the cabin crew to translate for me and asked him if I could do a selfie with him," Innes told The Guardian. "He just shrugged OK, so I stood by him and smiled for the camera while a stewardess did the snap. It has to be the best selfie ever."

Actually, if the flight attendant took the photo (and what's the story with her?) it's not technically a "selfie". Even so, Innes' breathtaking moxie in pulling off this stunt caused a lot of expected outrage throughout the world.

Security experts were horrified that Innes could put the other passengers in such danger, especially as his profession is noted as "health and safety auditor". Maybe he was just auditing the situation.

The invention of "smart" phones means that a lot of dumb people can take photos in crazy situations. Instagram may have more than 30 filters, but not a filter to stop people making idiots of themselves.


The National Transportation Safety Board in the US released a report in February into a fatal light plane crash caused by the pilot taking a selfie in the cockpit. The flash caused him to become disoriented and lose control of the plane.

The "selfie accident" is worrying authorities everywhere. Wikipedia has a page listing self-related injuries and deaths. Since 2014 more than 50 people have died in a way that was "precipitated by selfie".

People pose for selfies on railways tracks in front of speeding trains, with a gun to their temple or when climbing the parapet of a 20-storey building. They kill themselves falling down the steps of the Taj Mahal and falling off bridges. One killed himself falling off a toilet.

Another murdered a dolphin when he took it out of the water to shoot a selfie with it.

If selfie shooters seem careless with their own lives, they're often a pain in the neck for others too. The arrival of the selfie stick seemed particularly obnoxious, as the world's popular tourist attractions start to resemble fields of waving wheat. (By the way, you can make an impromptu selfie stick by attaching your phone to the clip of a plastic coathanger.)

But, now that I'm left with a digital photo album that doesn't include any images of myself, I think I might have been a bit rough on the selfie. All those dolphin killers and Kardashians have distracted me from the fact it's only a modern way of making a self-portrait.

In the end, it's not much different from an earlier generation taking old-fashioned travel snapshots, aside from the fact that we now have platforms to "share" those images with millions of strangers. Modern sharing is a kind of global slide night – it's still showing off to an audience that's bored rigid with endless photos of you standing in front of the pyramids, except that no one brings a plate.

The desire to put ourselves in the centre of the world is a universal instinct, as is the desire to make an impression, digital or analogue, on that world, to record that we were, indeed, there.

There's a trend for the wealthy to hire their own photographer and videographer to follow them around on holiday, but for those without the wherewithal, the selfie is our, perhaps imperfect, way of recording personal history.

Just be careful.

See also: The real reason why we love selfies

See also: The No.1 spot in the world for a travel selfie