I have an Instagram account, @paulrobida. As you will see, if you’re kind enough to check it out, not many posts are to be found, and even less are following. I have tried reluctantly to put my mind into it in order to promote this blog, but failed miserably and rapidly gave up. As such, I won’t blame you if you see this following rant as a petty expression of an undisguised jalousie. But if you spare me the time to explain myself, I’ll gladly show you why my opinion goes far beyond my own failures.
First thing first, how should we define travel ?
As stated in the About page of this blog, at Lost & Curious we see it as “an adventure, a way of life, where, with no other purpose than to enrich ourselves, we let curiosity guide us through the unknown. Constantly improvising in the course of encounters and discoveries, travel must become an exploration again, far from the common grounds where all is now standardized. We must take the time to appreciate nature and people, rediscover the diversity of cultures, the treasures of certain traditions, folklores or gastronomies that make a place truly authentic. We must embrace novelty, we must welcome differences.”
Off-course this is very personal and may be different for many other people, including you, which is perfectly fine. However, something we are pretty sure it shouldn’t be, is a mirror to our own vanities, self centered excursions where it’s all about us, or being a competition, a bragging right. Concepts unfortunately all too often associated with social media in general, and Instagram in particular.
Indeed, what was conceived as a photo sharing platform, thanks to the “like button” and the possibility to compile “followers”, turned the app into a global contest for attention. A place where one must be noticed and followed at all cost, in order to reach the ultimate Graal; be in the position to “influence” others and “monetize” it. All of which has consequences, none of them being good.
The separation between the “influencers” (them) and the “influenced” (us) is critical to understand the drama unfolding with Instagram, each having their own specific issues.
The undeniable allure of social media on our daily lives has a profound impact on our actions. As we deal here with travel, it can be said that it weights heavily in our choices of vacation destinations. Where should we go ? Well, you guessed it, for sure somewhere trending on Instagram !! As a result, we, the ever growing herd of digital tourists, congregate each year towards the new hot spots buzzing on our favorite social platform, thanks to some savvy pictures we intend to replicate once there, with the hope to generate maximum returns in our own like(s) section. Because it is no longer today how interesting the destination is, but in a perverse manner, how interesting the destination is going to make us look in the eyes of others. One problem with this sudden fame of those “special” places on social media is the massive influx it generates, to the point where authorities can no longer cope with the crowds, and have to limit the access for both the security of the visitors and the integrity of the spot. This, all the while other interesting areas in the vicinity are suddenly deserted, lacking the “Like” potential we all crave.
Let’s take those stunning Norwegian rocky plateaus looking over the deep fjords as an example. (I have never been myself and may be taking some freedom in my description just to make a point, but from all I read on the net I doubt it very much) On Instagram, we can see beautiful images of people standing on the edge of the cliffs (see the third pic on the right of my title image). It is serene, peaceful, zen. We’re alone in nature, far from the noise, far from the stress of every day life… Or are we ? Well, no, not really ! Right on the outside of the frame, stand hundreds of fellow “gramers” waiting for their turn to take that exact same shot, so that they can put it on their own page. Forget peace and loneliness, all we, “influencers to be”, will get is the stress that comes with knowing that we only have one go at that very important picture, before the voice of the ranger on site screams “Next !!!”. Can we pretend to enjoy the spot in those conditions? No, how could we ? We only came to pose in a nice setting we didn’t even got a chance to see, too focused on how we may end up looking. Does that sounds like traveling to you?
While we are there, we also often notice that it doesn’t look quite like what we had seen on other Instagram accounts. Disappointing isn’t it ? That light we loved so much isn’t quite there for us. No worries though, it’ll be fixed with a filter before it is posted on our gallery. Yep, the all mighty filters at our disposal. Isn’t that great how it allows us to easily reach for that “better” result, where we can just “adjust” reality to match our own “fantasy”?.. Just like everybody else.
That is not innocent. Between the filters, and to another extend photoshop, we are slowly but surely turning reality into a disappointment.
– “It just looked so much better on my screen, it’s not as cool as I thought it would be. Sad !!”
What else could be off ? Overcrowded, not as “photogenic” as “advertised”, worse, it is also filled with trash ! Yep, didn’t see that on Instagram either ! Those plastic bags flying around, the cigarette butts and empty water bottles littering the ground… Oh wait, some pigs even left behind used diapers !! Disgusting isn’t it ? But that is what you get when the wrong people come for the wrong reasons ! How many times had I to switch angle on a shot just to avoid, or at best reduce, the vision of all that trash laying around ? And how many hours have I waisted on photoshop just to clean the place up so it would look the part ?
So forget reality, Instagram, just like a traditional travel brochure before, is a fake advertisement here to make us dream ! Would you have come all this way if it had been shown to you as it is ? Off-course not. It can be said that Instagram didn’t create that problem, however it can’t be denied it made it a lot, lot, worse.
Now that I have covered the short comings of the followers, let’s dig into the beautiful world of the so-called “influencers”.
Becoming one of them is hard, very hard. It takes work, a lot of it, not to mention talent! (Unless you cheat with those algorithms bringing you fake followers, but that’s another subject). So much work, that despite what you might assume, they’re ain’t traveling anymore, they’re just working, which ain’t the same !
How do they get noticed ? Well, the right way would be to produce stunning pictures (Some, many, genuinely do, but we’ll see below that unfortunately it ain’t the only way). Now, to achieve what older folks like me used to call the “Kodak Moment”, takes skills, research and patience. To think that you’ll get every time the perfect setting, under the perfect light, at the perfect angle, without any prep while carelessly traveling is ridiculous. You can be lucky every once in a while, but most often you won’t, and a few filters won’t save you from being ordinary. It’s a choice to make, either you travel or you go on a photo assignment !
The other way to get noticed, for those who don’t have the required photographic talents, is to shift the focus on them. And that’s where things really get sad. We all know about the selfie craze, where you’ll see hundreds of people turning their back on the “attraction” they came to see, to snap a picture of themselves making strange duck faces, while hiding the aforementioned attraction. Some push it furthermore, transforming their husband or wife into personal assistants helping with the various shootings. And it can get pretty fancy, with a all lot of prepping, like choosing the right clothes and accessories, or the perfect campsite full of fancy gears, that can then be tagged for more recognition, and ultimately sponsorships. (Really, who has the time to set up those picture perfect campsites when traveling ? I have tried, only to fold, too tired at the end of my day to bother with all that work !) Before you know it, more and more Instagram pages become collections of fake shots luring us to believe those people live in fantasy wonderland we all wish we could share.
– Look I have been here and here and here, soon I’ll be able to say that I have been everywhere, and that is so much more than you can claim, which makes me soo cool… Please don’t forget to like and follow me !!
From sad, we reach tragic. Tragic is when, for the sake of that “vital” recognition, they end up putting their lives on the line. I’m talking about those people posting pictures of themselves in outrageous places, showing you how brave (or stupid) they are. How many kids have fallen to their death while taking a selfie at the top of a building ? Or, since we are talking about traveling, how about the three members of the “High on life” collective who fell to their death while “performing” a stunt at the Shannon Falls in British Columbia ? (By the way, the irony of dying for the sake of recognition while calling themselves High on Life !) Was it worth it ? Is this really what travel is all about ? I doubt it !
As you can see, there is a sharp contrast between the definition of travel I first laid out, and what travel is becoming under the influence of Instagram… A contrast between following a crowd to be popular and tracing you’re own route and be authentic… A contrast between the learning experience travel should be and the craving of personal recognition… A contrast between the fulfillment that brings being part of the moment as opposed to faking it.
Yes, there are amazing talents on Instagram, some I truly admire and enjoy following for their passion and creativity…Yes, my own Instagram account is laughable… And yes, we should all be allowed to travel as we wish… But, despite all of that and because of all the reasons expressed in this post, I still believe that Instagram, and the way we use it, is killing travel.