On a recent vacation I had an unpleasant realization regarding the relatively new phenomenon of the selfie. An almost ubiquitous sight on social media pages these days, the selfie seems to have changed the way people experience holidays or other memorable occasions. This was my first experience with it while visiting a world famous destination.
We were at the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru along with throngs of other visitors. While in the midst of the crowds gathered to marvel at this ‘Wonder of the World’, I realized most visitors were using their smartphones to capture images of their trip – they weren’t taking pictures of the site, but pictures of themselves and their friends in front of the ruins. Most were equipped with selfie-sticks to help them with their effort or were asking other tourists to take pictures for them.
A lot of posing and preening went on as though all of the thousands were celebrities being captured for a tabloid. Personal boundaries seemed embarrassingly to have vanished along with consideration for the experience of others. Many stood for lengthy periods at famous viewpoints or blocked pathways and staircases while they took their time getting the perfect pose.
Our guide told us the authorities at the site had banned jump photos – where people capture themselves in mid-air. This practice was repeated so often it was actually causing the ground to shift and putting the ancient ruins at risk. Many guards were stationed around the site to prevent people from climbing on walls to better pose for their selfie images.
Elsewhere on the trip, the phenomenon continued to be a nuisance. One couple even stopped to take selfies on the staircase leading from their plane while other passengers were still disembarking on the same staircase. Everywhere we went, it was nearly impossible to escape the vanity and self-focus of the selfie.
In talking with others, I realize this is a widespread phenomenon not unique to the places I visited and a simple scroll through a Facebook newsfeed will unveil many who post multiple self-shots every day.
I found one article about a person who had attempted suicide over a desperate dissatisfaction with the 200+ selfies they took every day for months.
Some mental health professionals have suggested that this behaviour is sufficiently prevalent and disabling as to constitute a new disorder. It certainly struck me as unhealthy behaviour tending toward narcissism and self-absorption.
Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to capture a few moments from a cherished and anticipated vacation. It simply seemed as though many people completely missed the opportunity to truly be present in the moment of their holiday.
Certainly, the prevalence of the selfie was an unpleasant phenomenon to witness. I was encouraged to learn that many tourist attractions have begun to ban selfies and I can’t help but hope this will curb this collective habit.
This is just as true for those who feel the need to capture every other moment in their daily lives. Instead of viewing life through the lens of the selfie and whether we have captured our best angle, we could take in the beauty of our surroundings. Instead of posing for endless shots, we could engage with our friends and family. I believe we’d all be healthier and happier if we did.