For travellers, it's 'antisocial' media

The British foreign correspondent and publisher Nancy Cunard used to travel the world with her portable typewriter slung over her shoulder in a shawl.

I own an old 1930s' era Remington portable, to remind me of what life was like before laptops and iPads. It's heavier than a handbag of bricks, although I still find the click-click sound of the keys hitting paper immensely satisfying, but I digress.

We can count our blessings that modern portable devices weigh a fraction of the poundage of the old-fashioned typewriters, cameras and leather-bound journals foreign correspondents toted in the days before Steve Jobs, but what professional travellers and holidaymakers alike have offloaded in weight, we've gained in clutter, physical and psychological.

As much as I find slogging through the mud at the front line of the 1936-'39 Spanish Civil War carrying that heavy gear unimaginable, I sometimes think at least Nancy didn't have to deal with Instagram.

In 1936, Nancy would type her reports and wire them from the Telegraph building in Madrid and then retire to the bar with Pablo Neruda and a sherry. But for a modern-day Nancy, no such luck.

Emailing her report might mean she could have her drink a little earlier, but Pablo might not get so much attention, because she'd be checking in with Foursquare, updating her Twitter and Facebook feeds. She'd be downloading, editing and posting the images and video from her digital camera to her laptop, photographing her sherry and posting it to Instagram with the hashtags #bar #Spain #sherry #delicious, while making a board of Spanish national costumes to satisfy her Pinterest followers. Well, I'm sure I've forgotten a few social media tasks the modern foreign correspondent is required to fulfil.

In fact, I'm tempted to call it antisocial media, because so many travellers these days have their faces in their portable devices, viewing the world through small digital screens, and snapping images to share with friends, Facebook "friends" and family, that I sometimes wonder whether they're actually looking at anything.

Everyone's a foreign correspondent now, posting photos, reviewing hotels on TripAdvisor, informing Twitter that they just walked past @kylieminogue on a Paris street, and maybe this is all very entertaining, but I sometimes wonder, when I see a group of tourists all with their arms in the air shooting the same image, such as the Eiffel Tower, which has been captured millions of times before the same way, why bother?

I realise people want to show their friends that they were there, hence the advent of the selfie, but are they really there? A real foreign correspondent would turn their camera away from the familiar image and look for what has been uncaptured. Some people are very good at Instagram and take arresting images, and some do turn this into a profession, getting paid to go on things called Instameets (ghastly name), but if you spend much of your time when you travel on cameras, phones and iPads, when do you have time to stop and shoot the breeze?


I can string a few words together but I'm not a photographer and yet the advent of social media means I have to be at least minimally adept at capturing images for Instagram, Facebook and all those photo-heavy apps that people love sharing. Words aren't that interesting, apparently, at least according to social media gurus - you need to get your story out in pictures and video.

I happen to like taking notes. That means I need an extra arm when I travel, or at the very least, a juggling diploma from Circus Oz. Yes, I have pockets and bags, but there are certain moments when a scene requires a few scribbled notes, a digital photo or video and an Instagram on my iPhone almost instantaneously.

Recently in Istanbul, I was so busy multi-tasking that I caught my foot on a loose cobblestone and ended up with my face in a filthy gutter. But worse than the indignity, when we returned, I wondered whether I really saw the city. I spent so much time looking at it through screens or with my head down scribbling about it, that the pleasure of being there escaped me. I need to take my own advice - put the devices down occasionally and stop to smell the pomegranates.

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