Dear Instagram travellers,
Let me start out by declaring that this is not another post bashing online influencers for ruining travel. Humans are capable of doing that with or without social media. I write this today, to seek answers to some pressing questions about the way travel is changing. If you have travelled to "Insta-worthy" spots, decided to take up travel because of its glamorous appeal on social media, or spent time looking at a destination through your smartphone and not your eyes, then I urge you to read on and answer these questions for yourself.
Why are you really travelling?
Looking at travellers today reminds me of a popular Confucian proverb, "If you travel to a beautiful destination but don't take a picture, did it really happen?" . Travellers today are towing that thin line. On one hand they're focusing on experiential travel and offbeat destinations but on the other hand they're becoming overly dependent on social media. Regardless of the kind of traveller they are, they are glued to their smartphones from the time of planning the trip up until bouts of post-travel blues!
The question that arises here is, "why are you really travelling?" Travel used to be associated with sparking curiosity, discovering new places and searching for authentic encounters. And photography was used as a tool to enable it. Lately, however, the search has gone from outward to inward as we focus more on ourselves and share our lives on social media.
Are you a victim of the unwritten social media rules?
As a result of algorithms, engagement rates and all the work that goes into becoming an Instagram traveller, people focus more on the kind of pictures they take rather than focusing on the destination or the experiences. There is no doubt that a lot of work goes into this. But it is shifting the focus from travel. And since only pretty pictures tend to get engagement, a holistic travel experience is almost never shared online. What about the challenges of visiting a place or the challenges of travelling in general? These are almost never highlighted.
Do you think before clicking?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Often times we have no idea how one single picture clicked by us can possibly impact the people viewing it. In the past few years, several critics have argued that clicking and posting pictures of destinations online affects tourism in these places and not always positively.
While tourism is important for providing livelihoods, increasing jobs and improving the economy, it is a double-edged sword. Mass tourism can severely impact the ecosystem of a destination especially if it is not equipped to handle a huge influx. Problems such as increased toxin load, disruption to wildlife, pollution and more have been linked to increased tourism.
Are you using your influence responsibly?
Each of us are influencers in our own right. Even if we don't impact millions of people, we have the ability of influencing decisions of those in our close circle. Personally, I am a firm believer of freedom of expression but I also understand the responsibility that comes with sharing content online. And while I do believe we shouldn't be made to feel bad about having aesthetic Instagram feeds, we should also be responsible about what we post online.
This is of course easier said than done because wanting to please others is a part of human beings' inherent nature. But we can take a step in the right direction by also sharing the challenges, bad times and the behind-the-scenes of travel every once in a while. Let's keep it real.
Do you acknowledge there's a problem?
When I write this letter, I am not excluding myself from the list. In fact, I am very much in the centre of it. But I do acknowledge that there is a problem and something needs to be done about it. And I urge you to look at it the same way. Even as I write this post, I realise I need to be more mindful of the problems that come with sharing travel and travel photos on social media generally and Instagram specifically.
Because despite all the social media-worthy places that we come across, it is important to remember that the wonders of the world weren't created for the consumption of technology. They are there for all living beings to share, including the wanderer inside all of us – whether photos are a part of it or not.
Do you agree with the writer? Or do you think differently. Tell us all about it here, on Tripoto!