ZEIT­GEIST

“If you didn’t In­sta­gram on the Span­ish Steps, did you even go to Rome?” Wel­come to the era of selfie tourism.

ELLE (Canada) - - CONTENTS - By Carly Lewis

Maybe don’t do it for the ‘gram.

LAST SUM­MER, Bogle Seeds sun­flower farm in Mill­grove, Ont., closed its doors to the pub­lic af­ter swarms of vis­i­tors tram­pled the fam­ily’s sun­flower crops in or­der to snap and post pho­tos of them on so­cial me­dia. Po­lice es­ti­mated that 7,000 cars had packed an area that was meant to hold 300. Most had found the farm via In­sta­gram’s geo­tag fea­ture, which tells users where a photo was taken and pro­vides a link to a map of how to get there.

Stu­dent Al­lie Fis­cher, from Lon­don, Ont., was among the hordes who took a road trip to Bogle Seeds specif­i­cally for the ’gram. “I didn’t have much va­ri­ety in my pho­tos, so I thought the sun­flow­ers could brighten up my feed,” says the 21-year-old, who had re­cently started an ac­count for Milly, her white Ger­man shep­herd. (Milly now has about 600 fol­low­ers.) “I Googled ‘sun­flower farm On­tario,’ and it was the first thing that popped up.”

With In­sta­gram bub­bling over with im­ages (there are more than 95 mil­lion pho­tos up­loaded ev­ery day), stand­ing out from other posts to score likes and fol­low­ers has be­come an in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive quest. In­flu­encers and armchair In­sta­gram­mers alike are go­ing to ex­treme lengths to cap­ture the per­fect shot. For some, this means putting them­selves at risk tak­ing pho­to­graphs on the edge of a cliff or hang­ing off a speed­ing train—the re­sults of which can be deadly: At least 250 peo­ple have died tak­ing self­ies since 2011. For oth­ers, like Fis­cher, who may be less hard-core but equally as com­mit­ted to con­tent, it’s bat­tling hun­dreds of other tourists try­ing to get a unique photo in front of the ex­act same land­mark.

This is selfie tourism. And, un­der­stand­ably, not ev­ery­one is here for it. Last Novem­ber, the Jack­son Hole Travel and Tourism Board in Wy­oming be­gan ask­ing vis­i­tors not to geo­tag their pho­tos, an in­creas­ingly com­mon re­quest made by man­age­ment at scenic lo­ca­tions. Park rep­re­sen­ta­tive Brian Mo­dena said that in­flu­encers com­ing to shoot spon­sored con­tent and cou­ples want­ing en­gage­ment pho­tos were over­whelm­ing the park’s re­sources and dam­ag­ing its ecosys­tem. “We want peo­ple to have a real con­nec­tion to na­ture, not just a page with a pin on it,” Mo­dena told The New York Times. (Signs have sim­i­larly been posted along sa­fari routes in Africa, ask­ing tourists not to re­veal co­or­di­nates be­cause poach­ers search geo­tags for rhinoceroses to hunt.)

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties around the world have banned selfie sticks at places like land­marks, art gal­leries and his­tor­i­cal sites, such as the Colos­seum in Rome and the Syd­ney Opera House, due to fears sur­round­ing safety (selfie stick ac­ci­den­tally hit­ting an­other tourist in the eye)

and van­dal­ism (say, a selfie stick ac­ci­den­tally rip­ping a Pi­casso). Mi­lan has banned self­ies in pub­lic spa­ces en­tirely (good luck polic­ing that, am­i­cis), while in Pam­plona, Spain, self­ies are pro­hib­ited dur­ing the Run­ning of the Bulls to pre­vent in­juries. In 2014, Lake Ta­hoe of­fi­cials took the step of ask­ing peo­ple to stop tak­ing “bear self­ies”—yes, bear self­ies. Mean­while, in Peru, 22 an­i­mals, in­clud­ing sloths and a manatee, were res­cued from a tour com­pany that had held them cap­tive for the en­joy­ment of vis­i­tors, many of whom went solely for the photo op.

It’s tempt­ing to at­tribute the pop­u­lar­ity of selfie tourism to the van­ity or stu­pid­ity of selfish av­o­cado-toast-eat­ing mil­len­ni­als. But there’s some­thing deeper at play here. Why are so many of us bow­ing to the pres­sure to por­tray an ex­tra­or­di­nary life, even if that means sur­ren­der­ing de­cency and com­mon sense? “A lot of what drives so­cial-me­dia be­hav­iour is the an­tic­i­pated so­cial re­ward,” says Jen­nifer S. Mills, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at York Univer­sity whose re­search in­cludes the ef­fects of selfie-tak­ing on body im­age. “Avid so­cial-me­dia users be­come de­pen­dent on that re­ward.”

Cody Gar­cia, 24, an ad­ven­ture pho­tog­ra­pher from Tampa, Fla., whose feed is pop­u­lated with ev­ery­thing from death-de­fy­ing shots taken on the edge of the Grand Canyon to chilled-out snaps of snorkelling in Maui, is fa­mil­iar with that pres­sure. “There is an ex­pec­ta­tion once you start tak­ing these crazy shots.” Travel self­ies make us seem happy, rich, cul­tur­ally so­phis­ti­cated and hash­tag­b­lessed. Any­one can look great in their bath­room. (Thank you, Crema fil­ter.) But be­ing on a beach in Thai­land or in front of the Great Wall of China im­plies that we had the means and sta­tus and knowl­edge to get there.

Still, by fo­cus­ing on cap­tur­ing all of this con­tent in­stead of re­ally tak­ing in the soft white sand of that beach in Phuket or the 21,000 kilo­me­tres that make up the Great Wall, what are we miss­ing out on? If our main goal is to doc­u­ment ev­ery­thing as proof that we went some­where cool and, by ex­ten­sion, are some­one cool, we’re over­look­ing the en­tire point of travel: the joy of be­ing en­tirely out of our com­fort zone and the real­iza­tion that the world is brim­ming with beau­ti­ful peo­ple and places and pos­si­bil­i­ties. That emo­tion can never be cap­tured on In­sta­gram.

As for Fis­cher, the photo of Milly beam­ing in the sun­flower field is still on her feed, but she up­dated the cap­tion to in­clude a link to a Gofundme meant to help the Bogle fam­ily re­cu­per­ate costs in­curred due to dam­age. The ex­pe­ri­ence, she adds, will make her think twice be­fore her next road trip. If a spot is over­crowded or threat­ened, she’ll pass it by. “I’m more in­clined to visit places that re­quire you to earn view­ing the beau­ti­ful scenery,” she says. Now that’s a phi­los­o­phy wor­thy of a dou­ble tap.

Travel self­ies make us seem happy, rich, cul­tur­ally so­phis­ti­cated and hash­tag­b­lessed.

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