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Of poses and hashtags: Travelling has changed since Instagram took over

As tourists roam the world selfie sticks in hand, journeys becomes the casualty

brunch Updated: Jul 15, 2018 16:14 IST
Shunali Shroff
Shunali Shroff
Hindustan Times
Travelling,tourists,selfie
Selfie travelling is a competitive sport (iStock)

A young Asian girl in a crisp white organza bridal dress is precariously perched on an extraordinarily white wall with cascading cave houses and a striking blue dome in the background. A man in a black tuxedo, after regarding himself in a hand-held mirror, joins her and takes instructions from the professional photographer directing the shoot. The couple hold each other in a passionate embrace, with her eyes half-closed and the elaborate ruffles of her dress flowing gently with the wind and merging with the white wall of Oia in Santorini.

This pair is one of the many already married or engaged couples who have chosen to pose for their wedding photos in Greece, I am told by the hotel concierge later. The photoshoot has little to do with their real wedding but that minor detail is of no consequence. Nor is Santorini, except that it makes for a good background in romantic photographs on social media.

Backs to the wall

Santorini makes for a good background in romantic photographs on social media ( Shutterstock )

At the National Gallery in London, a bunch of young Chinese tourists are possibly the only art aficionados scuttling around from painting to painting with their backs to the great works of art, selfie stick in hand. Monet’s Water Lilies and the vibrant colours of the landscape of Arles do make for a good backdrop.

Three girls in their 20s are confronting Temple of Athena Nike with a remote in hand, their backs facing a phone cradled on a tripod a few feet away. The girl with the remote sprints to the tripod, examines the picture on her phone and seconds later, the three of them reassemble in front of the ancient remains of Athens once again. A pursuit of the perfect shot requires perseverance, patience and forbearance and this generation is equipped with all three virtues as long as it is about earning ‘likes’.

Great works of art make for stunning backdrops for photos clicked by tourists inside National Gallery in London ( Shutterstock )

There is one thing common to all these images: the carefully dressed models are always standing with their backs against the landscape. If God is in the details, then these influencers with their salon-styled tresses, beautifully accessorised outfits that have been colour-coordinated with the location, and perfectly made up faces have surely found god.

The other thing all these people have in common is that not one of them is looking at the scene or enjoying it. William Henry Davies’ poem Leisure about stopping to stand and stare, in the context of this category of travellers, gets a whole new meaning.

The temple of Athena Nike is brimming with influencers all beautifully decked up and posing for the perfect Insta post ( Shunali Shroff )

The world as a backdrop

What smart phones and social media have done to the essence of travel is unforgivable. With everybody so intent upon becoming the scene, travel is no longer about enjoying the scene. Whatever happened to the joy of exploration and discovery?

The pastoral settings of the Cotswolds are also a coveted backdrop for travellers ( Shutterstock )

Just the other day, across the undulating terraces of Santorini, I witnessed five girls across five terraces posing for pictures as the flaming orange sun first blazed and then slowly diminished over the vast Aegean seas. Not even one of them was honouring the phenomenon unfolding behind their backs.

An aspiring influencer friend planning a holiday in Norway told me too many people were posting from beach holidays. She wanted to go someplace different. Selfie travelling, it dawned on my old-fashioned brain, is a competitive sport and this person was one of the many all set to ace it.

It is human nature to want to share a good experience and to some extent, we all are guilty of spending far too much time trying to photograph our travels rather than giving our full attention to what is in front of us. Installing yourself in every photograph, however, is taking it to a whole new level. ‘Selfie tourism’ is the projection of an artificial experience made to appear real.

The ancient remains of Athens are popular as selfie sites ( iStock )
Three Insta perfect hotels in the world
  • The Shard, London - While the jury’s still out on whether this new age marvel/monstrosity is a boon or bane to the South Bank, nobody doubts that the best views of the city from top can be had from the rooms at the Shangri-La.
  • The Electra Metropolis, Athens - With balconies that overlook the Acropolis, this newer, more modern version of the iconic Electra Palace Hotel, is situated in the heart of Athens. Don’t miss: the rooftop restaurant that changes character from breakfast to dinner.
  • Crowne Plaza, Changi Airport - For a hotel meant for transit passengers at Singapore’s Changi airport, this one offers a treat: a close view of the runway, which can be a delight for aviation geeks and others alike.

Reality all touched up

I overheard my teen daughter and her friends discuss their forthcoming holiday recently. Clothes and accessories to go with various ‘looks’ were being planned. Good poses for Snapchat and Instagram were also discussed after consulting popular ‘influencer’ handles on both mediums. In the pastoral settings of the Cotswolds, it upset the child when I clicked a candid photograph of her. It was a decent photograph, but candid is never natural she told me. It had to be planned.

Reality is inimical to a generation hoping to build a career on Instagram ( iStock )

I spoke about the virtues of spontaneity, but was quickly dismissed. Spontaneity, I realised, was very last century. It wasn’t flattering and it earned you neither likes nor followers.

Reality, I concluded, is inimical to a generation hoping to build a career on Instagram. It was an indulgence that those hoping to make a living out of their social media profiles could not afford. But in the race to get free deals, airline and hotel upgrades and better still, an income from social media accounts, travel as we knew it is the greatest casualty.

Shunali is a writer, an avid traveller and the author of the bestselling book Battle hymn of a bewildered mother. (It is, however, her strong opinion on Twitter that often gets her the most attention.) Follow her on social media at @shunalishroff

From HT Brunch, July 15, 2018

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First Published: Jul 15, 2018 00:26 IST