See more, snap less

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - PETER MAN­DEL

This is Scot­land, and I am tast­ing Scotch. I should be happy. Even giddy. But there’s a prob­lem. I can’t even see, much less sip, the drams.

Smart­phones and selfie sticks have sud­denly sprouted like shiny bam­boo shoots. People in my tour group are el­bow­ing me out of the way. There’s a woman with two phones hap­pily click­ing. A man wear­ing tweed is hop­ping as he snaps, which blocks a taller man be­hind him.

I watch the tall guy drag over and be­gin shoot­ing what has to be a hawk’s-eye view of the scene. Is the Duchess of Cam­bridge here, or some­one equally fa­mous? No, what the flashes are high­light­ing is, well, whisky. Im­ages of whisky be­ing poured. Pic­tures of whisky in a glass.

I grab my cam­era, check the set­tings, flip on the flash ... but, some­how, I’m not quite up for bat­tle. I slink over to a plate of scones. The sin­gle-malt shot of the day will not be mine. Ev­ery­one else will snag much bet­ter im­ages and grab those Face­book and In­sta­gram likes the very se­cond they post. I will drink my un­recorded whisky in dis­grace.

I’ve started to think that snap­ping strings of hol­i­day pic­tures is a kind of ner­vous tic. A way to box up travel, show it off and take it safely home. It seems the only con­vinc­ing rea­son for a world that sud­denly seems bored with plain old ex­pe­ri­ence (yawn, an­other day in Rome) un­til the in­stant it is cap­tured.

What makes a trav­eller hold up the screen of his pic­ture-en­abled iPad to block out a squadron of sun-bright par­rots in Brazil?

What causes some­one in a sa­fari jacket to pose for a se­ries of self-por­traits when it’s sun­set and it’s Kenya with a brush-fire tint­ing the sky and sil­hou­et­ted gi­raffes mere me­tres away.

Why do people point lenses at un­pho­tograph­able rain in rain forests? Or shad­ow­less snow on top of ice on top of the Arc­tic Sea? Why do din­ers in a Hanoi noo­dle joint for­get the slurp, the steam, the shrimp curled up in­side their pho?

Ev­ery­one likes im­ages that are sharp and evoca­tive and good. But of ev­ery mouth­ful, at ev­ery meal?

I do get that hot­shot pho­tog­ra­phers are proud. They can spot us ama­teurs com­ing and I know just what they’re think­ing: no fire in our bel­lies, no de­cent equip­ment. And when push comes to shove, I re­alise they’re right.

That shot that caught the drama of an ac­ci­dent, in a dusty al­ley, deep in the me­d­ina in Fes? Not mine. I was en­grossed in my cous­cous at a cafe lunch.

The im­age that made the At­las Moun­tains look lu­mi­nes­cent, and picked out a lantern moon? I didn’t take it. I was too busy skid­ding on peb­bles, por­ing over a map, wip­ing my brow.

It may be sim­ple jeal­ousy, but lately I’ve felt giddy re­lief when I en­ter a place where pic­tures aren’t al­lowed. Is it a gar­den in Myan­mar full of ex­pan­sive blos­soms and enor­mous trees? I might see a but­ter­fly against a branch with­out the scene be­ing back­lit by a dozen flashes.

Is it an al­most-fa­mous restau­rant in Madrid? I’ll be able to ac­tu­ally taste and digest with­out a table­mate pho­to­geni­cally re­ar­rang­ing my food.

Sud­denly I’m free, not just from forests of click­ing cell­phones, but the temp­ta­tion to pull out my own. I can con­cen­trate, not on things that might be worth record­ing, but on those that aren’t.

When I get this gift of sec­onds that are very hap­pily point­less, I re­mem­ber what it was like in the days be­fore de­vices, be­fore ev­ery­one on Earth was “wired”. I have made up my mind to turn over a fresh new leaf next trip.

See more, snap less is the motto. Don’t be en­cum­bered. Don’t be the tweed man or the tall man. Just go.

Peter Man­del is an au­thor of chil­dren’s books, in­clud­ing Jack­ham­mer Sam (Macmil­lan).

Selfie mo­ment in the old town square of Riga, Latvia

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