ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Instagram is full of selfies that, frankly, people should not be taking. The U.S. Forest Service has warned against bear selfies - photos with wild bears in the background. Yellowstone has asked park visitors to take a safe selfie pledge. And this is because people have actually died trying to get the perfect shot to post on social media. Kathryn Miles writes about this in Outside Magazine, and she joins us from Portland, Maine. Welcome.
KATHRYN MILES: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Give us a typical story of how somebody dies taking a selfie.
MILES: Sure. And what we've seen, for instance, in the past few weeks repeatedly is visitors to the Grand Canyon at the South Rim wanting to get that sort of lovely panoramic shot of themselves at the Grand Canyon and stepping back to kind of situate themselves, not realizing how close they are to the edge and then literally falling to their deaths.
SHAPIRO: And then you also write about people who are trying to take daredevil selfies to get more clicks or likes or retweets or whatever the case may be.
MILES: Right. And this is another growing cultural phenomenon where we have people - and it can be very lucrative in terms of social media followers and sponsorships - who are trying to get noticed because they're deliberately putting themselves in incredibly precarious situations.
SHAPIRO: What kinds of numbers are we talking about here?
MILES: There was a report that was released about a year ago that said that there had been upwards of over 200 selfie deaths that were recorded. But just this month alone, we know of five in the United States. And so I think really trying to tease out the numbers is something that's going to be difficult to do.
SHAPIRO: When people die in this way and articles are written about it, there is inevitably a vicious reaction on social media. I mean, you describe people who will say this is just stupidity or narcissism. Some listeners might be having that reaction right now, hearing this conversation. So what would you say to those people?
MILES: I think it's really important to understand that this is literally part of our human condition, right? We're a pack species. We like other people to like us. We like them to know what we're doing. And we've been doing this for centuries, whether it was commissioning portraits, whether it was sending postcards from our trips, whether it was holding our neighbors hostage and making them watch 10,000 slides from our family vacation. This is part of who we are. It's just a matter of managing it effectively.
SHAPIRO: If this is an essential part of the human condition, are these fatalities just going to keep happening?
MILES: I think so. I think so. There are some measures in place to kind of help with those people who are accidentally finding themselves in the situation of taking risky selfies. I think the more difficult question to ask is, what do we do with those people who are deliberately trying to find that high-risk selfie moment?
SHAPIRO: I mentioned the U.S. Forest Service warning against bear selfies and Yellowstone having this safe selfie pledge. What other steps are being taken to try to keep people safe?
MILES: We're seeing a huge range. Russia, the country, for instance, has published a safe selfie brochure that it hands out to people there. We're seeing things like, for instance, Wisconsin state parks have tried a really interesting initiative where they've built selfie stands in the parks in safe places with good views. So, you know, you're going to be safe when you do that.
The Delaware DMV has created safe selfie zones. And then the National Park Service earlier this month tried a safe selfie day to try to get people engaged in the movement.
SHAPIRO: Kathryn Miles. She writes about selfie deaths in this month's issue of Outside Magazine. Thanks for joining us.
MILES: It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.