I’ve decided to start challenging myself to stop consuming so much media: specifically, I am only going to check Instagram once a day from now on. For some people this might be easy—but, I think I’ve become addicted to viewing into the seemingly perfect lives of others. I follow fashion bloggers, travelers, and people that I grew up with. No matter when I scroll through my Insta feed, I see all of the accomplishments and beautiful appearances of my acquaintances and even people I don’t know. And under the censorable imagery of social media, I only see what they choose to share—their brightest smiles and lush vacations. I joke with my friends in the comments, “So jealous of you. I wish I was there!”
When I realized that I did this a little too often, I started to think about the need of humans to document events and share them. In particular, our need to take thousands of pictures, plenty of which are selfies. So today I’m here to ask, why do we need pictures of ourselves traveling?
A note about the selfie: I’ve been in classes before where selfies were equated with self-portraits. Honestly, I have a hard time making this jump as I see a self-portrait as planned and made with time and deep thought. One cannot make a self-portrait without reflecting on themselves: be it their appearance, character, or existence. Yet it is possible to take a selfie without reflection, although this is not always the case. Often in modern society it is without thought, other than, ‘wow, my face looks weird today.’ But there are definitely ulterior motives to selfies, and especially to a travel selfie.
Is documenting yourself in a new place simply proving that you’ve been there? This is easily refutable as my purse can attest to the fact that there are train tickets and chipped tiles and other mementos to prove where I’ve been. Yet the age of the selfie goes beyond proof—the selfie is simple to share and send, to advertise who I am. The value of a digital photo is in the ease of transfer across physical distances to a multitude of recipients. Basically, the purpose of a photo of a traveler in an exotic destination is to entreat the views of others.
What sort of reaction is a selfie asking for? Jealousy? Admiration?
If so, this would lead me to the conclusion that one must be selfish or bragging to take photographs of oneself traveling. Could the purpose of the traveling selfie be as innocent as to maintain the memories? While this is sometimes the case, why must we then post the photo? Why not keep it to ourselves?
Throughout history, humans have felt the need to present an image of themselves to the world. We are born with an deeply-ingrained need to be something—cool, talented, intelligent, good—and in order to convince ourselves, we often want to convince others. This lies at the base of our need to maintain social media profiles and then post photos of our vacations or when we do cool things abroad. To compete in the game of life (whose existence can be disregarded, but not totally denied) one must show that they see beautiful places and have amazing experiences.
But there are other reasons for photos. I do sometimes take them for my own memories or to document my personal experiences in a place. These may or may not be posted on social media or my blog; such a thing depends on my mood, whether I think people will respond to a particular experience, or what I’m writing to go with an image. I do think that in blogging photos of people are important, as humans are interested in other humans. When I shared a photo of myself with elephants in Thailand it was for a variety of reasons. I wanted to show you what I was experiencing at the elephant sanctuary, how we (me and the ellies) hung out all the time. I also shared it to draw in readers, so they would be inspired to travel. Here, I use photographs of me on the road when I want people to picture themselves traveling or living in a foreign country. I love traveling and believe everyone should and can travel too, so I use photographs to illustrate the joy it brings me.
I would never travel for the photos, they are simply symptoms of my exploration. The places I go and the people I talk to are not for the photographs, but I take them to document my travels. I would hope that this is how everyone uses photography: to capture an instance, to share a point of view or experience, to hold on to a memory. Although the reasons we share such pieces of our travel and ourselves vary, I’d like to think that we share them with others so that we can show how awesome our world is and spark the desire in other people to go out and explore it.