There’s a popular adage that reminds humans the best course of action when interacting with nature is to “Take only pictures. Leave only footprints. Kill only time.” But apparently, we can’t even manage that anymore.
Last week, an unfortunate baby dolphin, more specifically an endangered species known as a La Plata or Franciscana dolphin, was plucked out of the ocean and onto an Argentinian beach. The reason? People wanted to pet and take selfies with it.
Yes, selfies. With a dolphin. On land.
Video footage of the incident shows a ever-growing mob of people surrounding the poor little thing, cameras at the ready. According to Peter Holley at The Washington Times, “At no point in the footage does it appear that anyone in the crowd intervened or attempted to return the animal to the water,” and eventually, the dolphin died from dehydration. But it didn’t stop there. People kept on snapping pictures of its corpse and then left it to rot in the damp, trampled sand. How does something like this happen?
We have all seen the reports that women spend somewhere around five hours a week taking, editing, and posting selfies on social media. But that doesn’t mean guys are blameless. Of the one million selfies—yes ONE MILLION selfies—taken each day, men are responsible for about half. And these snapshots do so add up. All told, according to a recent survey, the average millennial could take up to 25,700 selfies in his or her lifetime.
Think about that for a minute. 25,700 pictures of one person. Sweet heck.
Van Gogh only painted 30 or so self portraits. Rembrandt left us about 90. Frida created 55. If it was sufficient for three of the greatest artists in history to create fewer than 100 images each, you’d think we could survive with a couple thousand or so of ourselves. And by making the comparison, I’m not saying that the self-portrait and the selfie share much common ground. For Van Gogh and Frida, self portraits were a way of exploring their inner demons and giving voice to their pain. For us? We’ll take a selfie just to show how on fleek our eyebrows are or to give ourselves gravitas at serious places like Ground Zero, the Holocaust Memorial, or a funeral.
Aldous Huxley said, “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” And I’d have to agree. We’d like to think we’re a cut above our ancestors, but I firmly believe that if the patrician class had had the means to take them, museums would be full of selfies with the Roman Colosseum in the background. (Along with necessary hashtags like #Lions4TheWin #ChristianItsWhatsForDinner #HailCaesar #BreadAndCircuses4Life) At least they took the time to watch the “entertainment” being provided. We can’t quite manage to stop taking pictures of ourselves long enough to watch nine innings of baseball. We’re too busy being the deities of our own 4.7 inch universes to be bothered to take in the beauty around us or *gasp* interact with people.
Now, rather than drink deeply and fully imbibe this thing called life, we frantically try to capture “the perfect moment” on phones. Why bother? There is no camera better than the human eye, no file more detailed than one stored in a human mind. Yet we keep scrambling for our devices, recording our lives rather than living them. How many of us have missed a gorgeous sunset because we were too busy trying to frame it up correctly to post on Instagram? How many fireworks shows have we only seen slivers of because we have to make sure we had something perfect for Vine? How long before we realize the hundreds of images we’re collecting of ourselves our limited worlds are keeping us from enjoying the greater (and much more interesting) places we inhabit? Maybe we don’t want to. Maybe we can’t bear the thought of not being the center of the universe.
The Swiss playwright and novelist Max Frisch, who was keen to explore once said that technology was nothing more than “the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” And for the life of me, I don’t know why we’re willing to make such a poor trade. I’d much rather be the elderly woman at the Black Mass premier than the other folks around her. She’ll have a memory of that red-carpet night that’s more exciting and detailed than anything captured on camera.
But maybe that’s how moments like the one on that Argentinian beach happen. People get so absorbed in the egocentric crush to capture what makes them unique that they’re willing to sacrifice anything to make it happen. After all, it isn’t just a photograph they’re taking; it’s proof of life.