If it didn’t appear on social media, where we really there?
If it were not for the posted images, would we remember we were there? Or, is it because we were busy taking the shots that were we not able to feel we were there? This is something of a central question around travel at the moment. It is one I’ve been reflecting upon and was brought into greater focus after a recent trip to the USA.
At the end of May I was in “Big Sky Country” – a place where no lens, no imagination even, can capture the magnitude of the vast beautiful blue above. En route to an Advisory Board Meeting, I took some time out to fulfill a bucket list dream with my wife and our extended family. We stepped back in time, into the Wild West, to experience a cattle drive at a wonderful ranch in Wyoming.
Photo credit Gavin Tollman
Whilst in this majestic “Big Sky Country” of endless horizons, a place that allows you to breathe, whilst at the same time taking your breath away with the spectacular vistas, I witnessed something with one of our fellow cowboys that jarred with me. As we took in our surrounds and decompressed from the frenetic outside world, someone raised a mobile phone, then ducked their head, immersed in the desire to feed the omni-present 24/7/365 social media habit. Time stood still…people and place paused…purely to ensure that posting was the priority. This action churned a number of thoughts for me, not least of which was should we be living in the moment, or forever forward thinking about what to post and what would be “liked” the most?
When we are so quick to snap and post that social media shot from our travels, has that second thought even been given to how this destination and experience is making us feel? In that split second of seeking social recognition are we depriving ourselves of the “pinch me” moments, by not taking time to be truly in awe of our surroundings?
We all know about the new reality – that the advent of technology and especially the integration of the smart phone and related apps, has changed the way we see, absorb and engage with our environment – mostly from a minimised perspective. Sadly, I can’t help but feel that this change is not only negatively impacting the moments of real joy that we seek to find on our travels, but also the purity of our motivations for travel. The ability of travel to liberate our hearts and minds through up close and personal experiences is being blocked by our own hands. And it is shaping not just how we travel, but why.
In fact, while scrolling my own social media this week, I saw a post from author, presenter and travel documentary-maker, Simon Reeve mocking his enthusiasm for plentiful instagram posts from Chefchaouen in Morocco. Reeve is a person who both embraces and engages with destinations and people and one I admire for his passion. However, his comment made me consider the frivolity with which others post and don’t see the irony of having the privilege of being in the world’s most beautiful places, yet they are far more concerned with connecting to social media to post images, than connecting themselves with the magic of being in the moment.
It disappoints me to hear of millennials being consumed with the desire to visit a destination being based on its “instagrammability”. We often talk of travel being in the moment, so if we take away those precious seconds to devote to social, how much are we missing? Sure, take the shot, just as we have always done with cameras through the years, but why does insta have to mean instantly for so many? Too many, I believe.
So much of the excitement of travel through the decades has of course been about the experience itself, but also followed by reminiscing about the experiences afterwards via those heartfelt moments and photographs. In the case of most people, you’ve had to wait a whole year to afford a trip. Your followers will surely wait a few hours, or even days.
Technology has the power to either widen, or constrict, the lens through which we see the world. The choice is ours. I fully advocate engaging in social media with purpose. Live your life fully, make memories but always be in the moment, without the hunger for instantaneous, online feedback. The very essence of travel should never change. In our minds, hearts, and mobile devices we must never forget that the voyage of discovery needs to be inspired by the uniqueness of the destination itself. The narrative must be, first and foremost, the voice in our minds and hearts that spontaneously articulates what we see, and feel, in that moment, not what it looks like to the world in those mobile uploads. It’s the emotional sentiment that matters and that precise personal journey and feeling can never be exactly replicated.
Being mindful during your travels means taking the minute between when your food is served not to find the perfect angle for Instagram or Facebook, but instead reflect on how fortunate you are to have this experience, in this intriguing destination, with friends old and new.
Social media is invaluable for keeping in touch, finding inspiration and information, accessing communities and enabling freedom of expression and our voices to be heard on issues that matter to us. But as a tool for travel, it is purely that. It’s not there to enrich us, it is not the purpose of our travel itself and never should it be.
Before you take off on your travels next, I ask you to consider some simple steps to make the most of the lifetime opportunities:
Cherish what you see – Moments of our lives are the most beautiful in their most raw form. Filters and photo-shopping only falsify the beauty of the here and now.
Be yourself – Our online selves can become a dramatically different to the real world of our daily selves. Be true to you.
Be disciplined – Manners matter. No more needs to be said.
Regain balance – Enjoy the freedom and the honesty of low tech from time to time. As shared earlier, so often our tech-connections cause us to disconnect from the rhythm of our lives.
Be Present – Love the moment you are in, without worrying about the ‘likes’
I am not advocating that travelers go completely offline, cutting themselves off from technology. All I am saying is what we all know to be true: do not let the virtual moment eclipse the emotion of the real moment.
Also, every now and then, it does feel wonderful to unplug and escape from social media and from the internet in general. Unplugging is important, reminding us to enjoy the silence, the beauty of our surroundings and using all the senses to be still and peaceful, because we can. We are not machines, we are human. And the legacy of love for connectivity to people and place will always outlive the instant “likes” online.
Photo credit Gavin Tollman