Know when to put your phone away

Claire Fisher

Three firetrucks, two ambulances, and police cars filled the parking lot at my apartment complex this weekend. Just after the firefighters had put out the fire and were interviewing the apartment tenants, my neighbors drove up to the scene laughing and pointing at the fire. As they exited their car, one of them put on his Aviator sunglasses, squatted, and made a duck face while his roommate took his picture in front of the firetrucks.

While the neighbors were not taking selfies, their inability to take the situation seriously and their decision to take a picture in such a light-hearted fashion showed an ugly side “selfie-culture.” Selfies are not entirely to blame for the neighbors’ insensitivity, most of it probably has to do with their personalities. But they aren’t the only people taking insensitive pictures at inappropriate times. There are times when it’s okay to take a picture with a silly face, and there are times when you should put your phone away.

Beyond my neighbors, a recent project called “Yolocaust” highlighted people who were posting on social media selfies and silly pictures from the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The artist who started the project combined the photos taken at the memorial with footage from Nazi concentration camps. The combination of the atrocities and the silly pictures taken by tourists, showed how disrespectful and inappropriate their photos were.

While nobody died in the fire at my apartment complex, my neighbors’ instinct to pull out their phones and pose for photos is just as disrespectful. Somebody’s home caught fire. Their belongings might have been damaged. Firefighters put themselves in danger to put it out. My neighbors took somebody else’s low moment and turned it into a hilarious photo opportunity. Know when to put your phone away.

If somebody is hurting, if somebody is in danger, if there’s any question in your mind that it might be inappropriate to take a photo, put your phone away.

I understand that social media is now how we process, explain, and talk about the events happening around us. It’s how we connect with our friends and share news. It’s not inappropriate to post on social media about something that’s happened in our lives or the things that we’re doing, even if there’s a tragedy. But when you post about a tragedy, don’t turn it into a joke. And don’t make a duck face.

Next time, when you go to take that photo, when you go to pose in front of a firetruck or a Holocaust memorial, stop. Take a moment and think. Think about who you might be hurting. Think about the scene around you and whether taking a selfie would be disrespectful. Know when to take a picture and when to put your phone away.