Editor’s Note: Disconnected from their humanity, much?
by Carey Wedler
In the digital age, people are increasingly attached to technology and obsessively eager to capture memorable moments on their smartphones.
This new-age phenomenon repeatedly makes headlines, often when animals are mistreated or endangered. Last year, a horde of beachgoers morbidly snapped selfies with a dead whale that washed ashore in Orange County, California. In Argentina earlier this year, a crowd of people at the beach pulled a baby dolphin from the water, taking pictures with it until it died. At a beach in Lebanon, people dragged a sea turtle from the water to take selfies before beating and abusing him.
Animals often suffer the fate of serving as props in our image-obsessed world. But a recent incident at McDonald’s shows just how far some people are willing to go to record exciting content.
When three-year-old Millie Wise began choking on a Chicken McNugget at a McDonald’s in the U.K. last week, restaurant-goers did not attempt to help her, nor did they call for help.
Instead, they pulled out their phones and started filming as she began convulsing and lost consciousness, the Mirror reported. Though they didn’t venture to take selfies with her — as humans around the world have done with suffering animals – they failed to take any action to save her life.
“It is unbelievable that people would watch a thing like that and their first instinct was not to call help but to take pictures and video,” said Claire Wise, the girl’s mother, who was not present for the incident. Millie was with her grandmother, who promptly screamed for help when she realized Millie was choking.
Fortunately, McDonald’s employees took note of the situation. One tried to dislodge the food before the shopping center medic arrived. Millie was eventually transported to a hospital.
Though she received the treatment she needed, the decision multiple McDonald’s patrons made to film a choking, suffering, and nearly dying child — rather than quickly searching for help — is easily diagnosed as a societal obsession with gaining attention, whether from friends or through social media.
In reality, the incident at McDonald’s demonstrates a psychological dynamic documented long before cell phones dominated the modern world — the bystander effect. As Psychology Today explains, “the bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation.”
The concept was first documented by two social psychologists, Bibb Latané and John Darley, who analyzed the murder of a woman in New York City in 1964. Though multiple bystanders observed the crime, they did not attempt to stop the murder or call the police.
“Latané and Darley attributed the bystander effect to the perceived diffusion of responsibility (onlookers are more likely to intervene if there are few or no other witnesses) and social influence (individuals in a group monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how to act).”
While the bystander effect certainly came into play at McDonald’s this weekend, it appears the decades-old theory is increasingly compounded by people’s addiction to their phones.
“I hope the people who did use their phones to take photos and video have the decency to delete them and I hope no one will share them on social media,” Millie’s mother said. “I am disgusted that people recorded such a traumatic incident while my mam and Millie were suffering such an awful ordeal.”
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