Social media has become an inevitable component of the population’s daily existence. The attachment to our social media lives is growing increasingly addictive and is transforming the way we interact physically. People rarely call each other, instead preferring to message through text, chat or employ some other voice-less communication method. Technology has taken us into a new realm where we are able to create the personas that we wish we had, while still existing in our subpar reality. Just as easy as it is to text message an enthusiastic reply while you’re actually feeling depressed, portraying very select and often calculated aspects of one’s life has skewed our images of people’s lives, and even more importantly, begun to truly transfigure the perceptions of our own realities.
When it comes to being a nomad on the road, living, volunteering or working abroad, many people use social media applications, such as Facebook and Instagram, as great modes of staying in touch with friends and family back home, as well as using it as a fairly universal way to stay connected with their new contacts.
While this is an important purpose of these programs, people’s dependency on their social media feeds, desperate need to seek out affirmation through ‘likes’ and desire to present their experiences abroad in a certain light can be distracting and even debilitating.
Taking photos while abroad is a given, we all want to chronicle those special scenes, moments and people. However, there is a reasonable difference between taking photos for memories and taking photos that are motivated by your intentions to feature them on social media. Typically, when snapping a photo for fun and memories, we have try and capture a moment or scene purely for a visual checkpoint. When it comes to social media, everything must be perfect so that all of your friends and followers understand how picturesque and adventurous your life abroad is.
Let’s not forget the critical shot, the ‘selfie’ and all its glory. Before you had to ask strangers to take photos of you, but now smart phones are equipped with cameras that show us the photo as we snap it and thanks to social media, we don’t have to wait till we get home to share our new exotic portraits. ‘Selfies’ demonstrate human psychology’s fundamental need for recognition. The fact that when people receive positive reinforcement in the form of ‘likes’ and ‘comments’, they continue to exhibit the action that got them the attention in the first place. Would recognition from another human being in real life not be more fulfilling? With the state of our interpersonal connections, it seems that this is now the main source that people turn to, rather than communicating in person just how much they appreciate one another. When abroad, by simply asking a fellow traveller or local to take your photo, you are engaging with another person who might turn out to be your new best friend, but how will you know if you never initiate an interaction? Even if you don’t end up connecting in a long lasting way, your simple gratitude when they return your camera is an improvement to the hypnotic trance of being on smart phones.
All of the effort that goes into planning a social media photo is energy that you could be spending on experiencing the fantastic location you’re in. Spending time choosing which photo to use, processing, and thinking of the perfect caption, is time that could have been spent absorbing your edifying surroundings, the vibrant culture and connecting with people.
The creative license provided by Instagram’s filters and effects continues to indulge the infamous foodie shots that are common ritual these days and can be viewed in almost any restaurant or bar setting. Some find a discreet snap satisfactory, but it is not unheard of for true food artistes to stand on their chairs in an attempt to capture that perfect composition of food, drink and perhaps a token themed accessory. This phenomenon of photographing food includes everything edible from drinks, #latteart, to the delicate process that was crafting a bowl of macaroni and cheese, #domestic.
What we lose by becoming so obsessed with taking photos of the food is the actual essence of the culinary experience, which we may have been physically present for, but our minds were more concerned with how many ‘likes’ our chocolate lava cake with a Valencia filter, would receive. Let yourself relish in the present, smell the intoxicating caramelized onions, hear the sizzling of the fajitas and truly savour the way the steaming slice of pizza before you was made from a recipe that had been passed down for generations and made by an Italian pizza veteran.
In most major cities, the majority of the population is immersed in an electronic device of some proportion, but that doesn’t compromise the authenticity of the bridges, buildings, mountains, and all of the amazing scenery that surrounds you. Separate yourself from the masses and be alive and present. Take a quick photo for memories and allow yourself the privilege of experiencing this new destination, because before you know it you will find yourself back at home. Though you may have returned with a social media account filled with photos, the photos are lacking any sort of connection to the subjects of your photos.
Social media has corrupted our perceptions of self worth, filling minds with the belief that social acceptance is established through the amount of Facebook friends, Instagram followers and likes you receive on posts. People’s desperation to enhance their cyber identity, leads them away from independent self confidence and traps them in a vicious domain of superficial friendships and virtual judgement, and they continue to constantly struggle for acceptance.
When people finally cease to saturate their time with social media fascination, they are able to develop relationships with human beings who possess the potential to share, teach and inspire them. Look away from the pixels and into the pupils of the traveller sitting next to you on the train into northern Thailand, and strike up a conversation. Opportunities to meet new people and share unbelievable adventures and relationships are exist in almost any situation, but it’s up to the individual to instigate the connection, something that will rarely happen when they’re isolated in their social media bubble.
Social media serves a purpose, but it is crucial to recognize the difference between a quick update and unhealthy fixation. Every experience in life, abroad or at home, is what you choose to make of it. Technology is meant to enrich our lives by providing us with applications and services that ease our worries, organize our information and simplify stress- all so that we may feel the freedom to participate fully in our physical lives. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter all have a due place and time, but realize the amazing opportunity that is living in the now and take advantage of it!
It is a delicate balance between too much and just the right amount, because Instagram does provide an easy way to share your photos, and Facebook is a valuable source of universally linking people. There are several travel based Instagram accounts that are inspiring with the artistic prowess and diversity of subjects they include. If you are going to be a traveller on Instagram, do it right by taking more than the typical “toes in the sand” or “out the window of my airplane” photo. Show some local culture, illustrate the atmosphere of your new home and allow the creativity of photography to fuel your discovery of vibrant life abroad!