Travel photography and selfies: How we're ruining travel through being self-absorbed

Hey, you. Yeah, you. Put your phone down for a second and let's chat. Switch it off, and put it in your pocket. Just for a second.

Let's talk about selfies. Let's talk about the insane culture of having to take a photo of yourself in every interesting location you visit. Let's talk about why you can't just enjoy a place for what it is, why you have to capture your head in the frame of a photo with something of beauty and significance an afterthought blurred out in the background. 

The only person that needs to know you're enjoying yourself is you.

It's reaching epidemic proportions. You can't travel now without seeing people taking selfies, working on the perfect pose, snapping the ideal scene, before moving on to the next sight. Does anyone even bother looking at these attractions any more? Or do they just get the photo and leave?

Social media is filled with the results of this plague, face after face after face, perfectly positioned, smiling broadly, looking carefree and easy. Of course when you're actually there near these people you see the truth, you see the time and work that goes into making these selfies just so. It's a total sham. Fakery on the strangest level.

Every single photo you see on Facebook and Instagram, every carefree, natural pose, every easy smile and casual demonstration of travel chic – know what has gone into that image. Know that it is the result of careful planning and painstaking execution. Know that the more spontaneous the look, the more curated the scene.

If you're looking at those photos and feeling jealous and wondering why your holidays aren't as much fun as that, don't worry – they are. Probably more fun, in fact, because you're not having to concern yourself with curating awesome photos of you in situ the whole time.

Selfies are a pretense. They're not real life. They're not real travel. They're people trying to project a certain image of themselves, trying to prove something to the world, trying to attract jealousy or envy or desire.

And almost none of us are immune to it. There's no need to check your social media feeds to prove it. Just try hanging around at any tourist attraction throughout the world and watching what people are doing. They're all taking photos of themselves. 

There are tourists, sometimes long queues of tourists, lining up with phones in hand, with selfie sticks poised, with tripods and camera remotes ready. The idea is to get the perfect shot, to capture the look of joy you're supposed to be feeling at being here and seeing this amazing thing. Only of course you're not really feeling that feeling because you're so busy with your phone and your selfie stick and your tripod, capturing the moment. But that's immaterial.

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No one even looks at these places any more, or experiences them. The world has become a background scene for a photo of yourself looking intrepid, or cute, or cool. Attractions are backdrops. Sights are scenes.  

Is it not enough to just take a photo of the attraction, of the castle or the church or the building or the monument without you in it? People will still know you were there. You took the photo. Do you really need to have your face in it as well? Do you need to spend 15 minutes taking shot after shot to make sure you get the right one?

I don't want to sound like the grumpy old guy here, but it's out of control. It's narcissism on a global level, a spreading desire to show people what you're doing, rather than to just do it. 

And it's not only millennials, either, as nice as it would be to blame one generation. It's not just Gen Y. This goes across many different ages, many nationalities, many creeds.

You could say, well, what harm are these people doing? But they are doing harm. They're filling the world with posers who are constantly in the way because they're spending forever lining up the perfect photo of themselves. They're filling social media feeds with unattainable versions of travel perfection that will in turn be chased by followers with curated selfie holidays of their own. 

And for the people doing it, what sort of travelling life is this? How do you have a good time when you're constantly looking for a place to photograph yourself? How do you appreciate a city or a country or the world for what it is when all you can think about is pulling your phone out and snapping another shot of your own head?

So put your phone down. Put it away. The only person that needs to know you're enjoying yourself is you.

b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au 

See also: There's a time and a place for selfies - and this isn't one of them

See also: The world's best places to thrill your five senses

Listen: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater

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