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Why the Tour de France Has Proved We Are Selfie-Obsessed

11/07/2014 15:44 BST | Updated 10/09/2014 10:59 BST

No one who's ever repeated the mantra 'life is not a spectator sport' could have predicted the scenes which have been playing out during this year's Tour de France. While some cycling fans were content to catch just a fleeting glimpse of their sporting heroes, others felt compelled to wander into the course in the hope of capturing a dramatic selfie.

American cyclist Tejay van Garderen branded the craze 'a dangerous mix of vanity and stupidity' and appeared to complain on Twitter that he suffered a knee injury after a collision with a spectator. 'Standing in the middle of the road with your back turned while 200 cyclists come at you, just to take a selfie. Think,' he demanded.

Team Sky rider and British Olympic gold medallist, Geraint Thomas, added: 'It was dodgy at times. The worst thing is when people have got their backs to the peloton taking selfies.

'Do that if you want but go sit in a tree. It's the new pain in the a**e that's for sure. People don't understand how fast we go.'

British cycling manager of Team Sky, Sir Dave Brailsford agreed: 'British people are fantastic at supporting sport,' he said. 'But the riders were worried about safety.'

This desire to be 'in the thick of the action' and 'at the front' is nothing new. But in this technologically driven age, each spectator wants to prove they were part of the action and hence the selfie found a new arena. To insert oneself into global events such as the Tour De France is to assert a high level of drama. The message is; 'not only I was there, but look at me I'm a part of it.' Importantly, these actions can no longer be dismissed as hype from the 'digital generation' because the most prevalent users of visual social apps such as Instagram and Pinterest are women aged 39 and above. The image of the self has become a rich and visual symbol to be produced, consumed, distributed and interacted with everywhere.

Selfies are no 'trend', the ubiquitous term has been added to the dictionary, and they are a part of everyday behavior. When TV presenter Ellen DeGeneres snapped a selfie at the Oscars with several A-listers in March, Twitter crashed as the re-tweets raced past a record previously held by Barack Obama. David Cameron and even the Pope have joined this social arena with their selfies and thousands more famous faces are following. Replicating the behavior of celebrities is now intrinsically linked to the nature of the selfie. Of course, there is a fun element but it undoubtedly gravitates towards narcissism. 'Look at how much fun I'm having, I want you to envy me' is more often than not etched into the psyche of the creator of the selfie.

The danger, given the ubiquity of these images, is that they quickly become banal, ordinary and un-shocking, or rather their audience will quickly acclimatise to the dramatic visual content. What will follow next? Realism matters. If the audience is skeptical of a dramatic selfie, they want proof it is real. Selfies cost nothing to produce, are championed by the great and the good - Barack Obama, David Cameron and the Pope - and they can be taken almost anywhere meaning there is no apparent catalyst to end this behavior. They are part of our culture, the only element which may change is the level of drama inserted into the subject matter. The desire to impress is likely to embed itself even deeper into our lives thus causing the selfie to reach dangerous new levels. Subjects will want to be 're-tweeted' and 'shared' several thousand times. To 'go viral' will be the ultimate endorsement for the dramatic selfie and we can expect more of this perilous culture.