The ‘Selfie’ And The Death Of Travel, Or, Kevin Gets Snarky

Sadly, one of my strongest memories of Malaysia will be the selfie.  Not any selfie I shot – this nation has taken it to a whole new level.  Or low, such as it is. I may be cured for a long while of any impulse to photograph myself in front of a dramatic scene.

I try to avoid snarkiness or making fun of people on this blog.  This is intended as a forum to share my adventures that people (still amazing to me) seem interested in.  But after what I witnessed there, well, I couldn’t resist for one post.

Over and over, I watched people approach a photo opportunity of some sort (historic building, landmark, shiny object, etc.), shoot a selfie, then quickly move on.  Without ever even looking at what it was they just photographed themselves in front of.  Much less appreciate or explore it. 

Which leads me to ask – what was the point?  If a goal of travel is to see things – and I would argue that for most of us, that is a prime goal – and you can’t even be bothered to take a moment to look at something, why are you there?

When did we become less interested in the places we visit and more interested in recording our existence at that place?

While I have a friend who travels without a camera of any type, and I love and appreciate the purity of that experience, I am not arguing against using a camera when traveling.  Obviously not, considering the number of photos I have shot over several decades.  I truly believe carrying a camera heightens my awareness when traveling.  My desire for better-than-snapshot photos forces me to look for the details, to notice small but interesting things, to pay attention to the light and what people are doing.  In constantly thinking “what would make for an interesting photo?” I believe I observe more.  I make no claims to being an excellent photographer, but I do think I pay attention.

The hundreds of people I observed however are doing none of that.  They are simply recording their passage through life in a series of photos that all look exactly the same.  While the “selfie” (the term itself makes me cringe) has become a worldwide phenomenon, it was on a whole new level in Malaysia.  Just days later, in Taiwan, I saw far fewer people engaging in that behavior.

I watched a young, feminine Japanese male, who looked shall we say, rather faahbulous in his tight clothing and kinda-sorta cowboy hat, walk up to the front of a a historic colonial-era building in Melaka, take photos of himself for 10 minutes, and then proceed to look at the photos on his phone for the next 10 minutes.  Without ever looking at the building or surroundings, he then walked away.

This behavior seemed to know no bounds.  Young teens.  Adults in their 50’s.  Men.  Women.  

Over and over similar scenes repeated: walk through town.  See something mildly different or interesting.  Stop to shoot the selfie.  Continue on within 10 seconds.

2015 Feb Malaysia 289 - Version 2

You are probably wondering what it is that he wais photographing himself in front of. A historic building? A beautiful sunset? Something distinctive or culturally significant? Nope. Pretty much nothing. He was more focused on himself than the location.

I thought he would act embarrassed or mad when he busted me shooting photos.  But as you can see in the next photo....

I thought he would act embarrassed or mad when he busted me shooting photos. But as you can see in the next photo….

2015 Feb Malaysia 287

Nope. Carry on, business as usual. I’ll just get back to preening in front of the camera, shooting photos of myself.

This was the moment when this post formed as an idea in my head. I was having fun people watching, when I saw this woman shoot her selfie while ignoring her surroundings. She was probably the 20th person in as many minutes I saw do this.

She appeared to shoot about 15 selfies in 3 minutes, and then walked away, never having looked at the beautiful colonial square she was standing in.

This kid is using his cell phone screen to check the image that his GoPro camera (which of course lacks a screen) has shot.  Which leads me to ask - wouldn't it be easier to just use your phone camera to take the photo?

This kid used his cell phone screen to check the image that his GoPro camera (which of course lacks a screen) shot. Which leads me to ask – wouldn’t it be easier to just use your phone’s camera to take the photo?

After a few minutes, he gave up trying to get a decent image using the selfie method, and asked his traveling companion to shoot the photo instead – while still using his cell phone to try to frame the image on the GoPro.

Am I just being a snob?  Elitist?  Overly judgmental?  Ultimately, if they are happy, then all is well.  They aren’t truly hurting anything or anyone.  (well, unless we want to get into a discussion regarding the environmental impacts of plane travel, and I can certainly talk about that).  They certainly weren’t hurting me.   Rather, they were amusing me.  And annoying me to some degree, but that was my problem.

But I have to ask again – what’s the point?

(What do you think Jeff Bell?  This seemed to me like a Planet Bell kind of post)