Keith and I have been traveling together for nearly 20 years. We had cell phones back in those days, I had a Nextel (Motorola, two way radio that made my head explode as the voice of my boss could come out of nowhere at any time regardless of where I was, what time of day or what I was doing) and Keith had a Startac (still his favorite phone). Back when phones were phones, not cameras, computers, dating tools, etc. and we still had 56k dial up at home on the laptop and if we wanted to take a photo we actually had to have a camera.
I still have distinct memories of Keith bringing his Hasselblad on our first trips together to Italy and then to Ireland. I think he may have had a Pentax 35mm (that he still uses) as well. But he was using film. Digital cameras were becoming more the norm but pros were still using film. And tourists were using a combination. But people who traveled were just taking photos, snapshots, landscapes, groups, families – the typical tourist shots. The travelers were present, enjoying the tour, the sightseeing, the monument, the view. Traveling was more about where you were going, who you were with and what you were seeing – quite frankly it was really not about you.
Fast forward 20 years and it is mind blowing how travel has become all about the perfect selfie, the perfect shot for social media. A new breed of travelers that seem to be only in it to gain followers, or to take that perfect couples shot in the perfect spot in the perfect place. People don’t seem to be present, just more concerned with their contrived, arranged, staged photo of themselves in some instagram worthy spot.
Within a short 30 minute walk in Paris last month I couldn’t get over it. We walked through the sweet little park that contains the I LOVE YOU WALL and could not get over the quantity of folks waiting in some sort of line to take their selfie in front of the wall. Last time I visited this spot, about 6 years ago (in July as well), my kids were able to play in the playground adjacent to the wall, while my friend and I sat there ALONE and quietly chatted while NO ONE took a selfie in front of this wall. Quite honestly I think I took one quick shot – and not with anyone in it – before we left.
This July and it is a whole different story – because now this wall has become an instagram favorite. Trust me I love instagram more than the next guy but the travel photo has changed because of it. As my daughter and I left the park, we were walking down from Montmartre and couldn’t believe that a woman was standing at the top of a street – taking a shot with her phone, using her selfie stick, holding up traffic and nearly getting run over. What for? I guess a shot of a typical looking Paris street looking down from Montmartre – and as if she didn’t even notice the honks of horns, she stood there and posted the photo.
We had already survived Santorini earlier in the month, which is over run with tourists that seem to be there for the Blue Dome shot in Oia trying to make it look like they are all alone on the island even though there’s about 1,000 other tourists standing just out of the shot waiting for their turn to get the exact same Santorini shot. The puckering of lips, the flip of the hair, the primping, it is exhausting just to watch. (It is apparently exhausting for the hotel + business owners in Santorini as well that have posted signs up all over “Don’t stand on the roof” Why you shouldn’t stand on private property is not common sense and there has to be a sign posted is beyond me, but we saw it happen over and over while we were there.) We asked a local why these signs were in random languages not in Greek or English – and they said that each season or two they need to change the languages because Santorini goes through different rounds of popularity with different parts of the world. This waiter told us that a couple years ago it was Japanese tourists, now it’s Russian and Chinese. Regardless of where the tourists come from it is just plain annoying.
I happen to be a big fan of selfies, great way to get yourself into a photo and it can even be a fun perspective but I guess what I don’t like is the feeling that these travelers are missing out on the very reason to travel in the first place.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller