A body seen floating in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour was
ignored, joked about and photographed, but few people were
willing to help.
A sociologist says the reaction from the public wasn't
surprising, because the immediate response in the digital age
is to take pictures for your friends rather than to act.
Brett Taylor, from Beachlands, East Auckland, came across the
body floating face-down beside Princes Wharf on Monday
morning. He and his wife stopped, made sure police were
called, and waited for the body to be picked up by the police
The number of people who took pictures on their mobile phones
and walked away was upsetting, he said.
But University of Auckland sociology lecturer Ronald Kramer
said it was just a sign of the digital times.
"I definitely think living in cities and within our
media-saturated environment, you do become desensitised.
It may be that people thought, what could they do. I think
people's default is to get an image so they can have
something to use as a basis for communicating with their
"The first thought might be that this is going to look good
on Facebook ... and in some ways that excludes moral
Mr Taylor was staying in the city for his 46th birthday and
was going for a walk around the wharf when he spotted the
In about 30 minutes, he estimated "30-odd" people walked past
and saw it. Nobody asked if the police had been alerted, he
"It was amazing. There were girls jogging; they stopped and
looked, jogging on the spot, then jogged away.
"There was one man smiling as he took photos. [And] the man
who sat down and had his lunch and watched, that really got
me. They just didn't seem to care."
Police pulled the body from the water about 11.30am and said
the death did not appear suspicious.
The apparently blase attitude of the passersby was something
echoed elsewhere in society, Dr Kramer said.
Like at a concert, people were more intent on filming the
performers than enjoying the show, he said. And people would
photograph their dessert at a restaurant before considering
tasting the dish.
"The technology allows us to distance ourselves from the
event. You don't have to think about it in the moment ... We
think, how can we communicate this to someone else. And I
think there's something in that a little disturbing."