x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Rubberneckers, put down that camera and be considerate

Why don’t people just stop taking photos and start enjoying life?

There comes a moment in a person’s life when they simply lose their temper over blatant disregard for privacy and take matters into their own hands.

Let me describe the scene and you be the judge.

A group of people of different ages and nationalities were taking photos with their smartphones of a man who had collapsed on the floor. They huddled around the patient as he was being attended to by paramedics. They were pushing through to take that precious “photo” and post it on social media. I stood behind a couple of them as they were frantically typing sentences like: “Oh my God! There is a man on the floor who is dying!” I was fuming.

I started pushing people away and snapped, “show some respect!” You would be surprised at how annoyed they looked because I stood in their way and was ruining their shots.

As journalists, we are notoriously guilty of being perceived as intrusive on often very private and extremely tragic moments in people’s lives. There is a thin line between when the intrusion being too much and when the value of telling the story is far greater than privacy and basic respect. It is not surprising that war-zone correspondents often get labelled “vultures” who descend on people’s lives at the worst times possible.

However, none of those who took photos of the poor ill man looked like journalists. They were dressed like they came out of a club or were heading to a party. The man had collapsed near a hotel.

Some were even taking “selfies” at the scene, placing the crowds and the rescue operation in the background. (Selfie is this year’s “Word of the Year” from Oxford Dictionaries, which defines it as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”, adding “occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary”. Exactly what the folks at Oxford thought about Barack Obama and David Cameron posing for selfies at the Nelson Mandela memorial service this week, I don’t know. I think it was profoundly disrespectful.)

Snapping photographs, rather than just taking in an experience without looking through a lens, prevents us from fully remembering the event. Taking photos will make it difficult for the experience to fully sink in.

Some take photos of every meal they have and every outing they go to or every new dress or gadget they buy.

If one takes a step back and looks at how much some people post on social media, it is almost like a cry for help and attention. It is OK to do it occasionally, and some of the most precious and fleeting moments should be photographed and shared. But there should be some decorum and some self-restraint.

There are simply no more limits to what people take photos of and what and how they comment on them. Some of the poses are hilarious, but try to laugh and you will find out how sensitive and defensive the “selfie” person becomes.

When the emergency crew tried to move the man away from the scene, and into a private area, they had a hard time controlling the crowd. People got excited and started snapping photos of angry, frustrated looking rescue crew.

Luckily, police men arrived at the scene and dispersed the onlookers. Only when the police threatened them with fines did the crowd leave the scene.

The police were not surprised and one of them told me that they struggle with these rubberneckers who often cause further problems, like accidents on the roads as they stop to take photos of wreckage.

Don’t be surprised if you are in trouble and a group of vicious paparazzi wannabes take photos without trying to lend you a helping hand. I didn’t see anyone trying to help or make it easier for the paramedics as they tried to save a man’s life.

Why don’t people just stop taking photos and start enjoying life?


On Twitter: @Arabianmau