A few months ago, on a trip to Sicily, I made a decision: no more social media. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no blogs.I would go social-media-free for one week, getting back to the essence of travel, eschewing the urge to share things in favour of actually doing things. I deleted the Twitter app from my phone. I made a mental pact to ignore Facebook and Instagram. I got my blogs written in advance. And off I went into a sharing- and like-free world. It was a wonderful, liberating experience that lasted about an hour and a half. After that time I’d taken a beautiful photo of Taormina and really wanted to put it up on the ‘Gram. So I did. And then I checked back to see if it had got any likes. And then I was hooked again.
Social media: is it really a good thing for travellers? Sure, we’re all much more connected on an electronic level. But we’re probably far less connected on many others.
I realise that I’m far from the first person to point out that the term “social media” is an ironic misnomer. There’s nothing social about a hostel dorm full of people staring at their phones and messaging their “friends”. But it’s become insidious among travellers, an addiction as gripping as saving money on cheap booze, or avoiding washing your clothes. We’re all on social media. We’re all checking our phones and tablets, seeing what’s going on in the cyber world, adding our comments and likes to the Facebooks, the Twitters, the Instagrams, the Foursquares, the Yelps and TripAdvisors of the world.
It’s a bit sad to cast your eye around a hostel full of travellers from all over the globe and see them all staring at their iPhones. But then you realise you haven’t checked Twitter in a while, or posted anything on Instagram, and away you go. Time flies by. It’s easy to become so obsessed with sharing your travel experiences that you forget to actually have any of them in the first place. I’m as bad as anyone. My social media drug of choice is Instagram, an app I use partly for work purposes, and partly because I just really like taking photos of cool places I’ve been, chucking on a few filters and then showing them off to the world. It’s become a bit silly, to the point where I find myself, while travelling, constantly scanning the scenery, trying to figure out what will make the best Instagram photo. I could always, you know, just relax and enjoy myself – but that’s not the sort of attitude that’s going to get you more than 100 likes, is it?
I’m a bit sick of Facebook. I’d like to “break up” with it on a permanent basis, but it’s just not going to happen. The problem with going without Facebook, I’ve realised, is that I can’t go without Facebook. It’s become far too useful. Not for posting photos of my food, or updating friends on the sleeping habits of my so-far-non-existent child, but for keeping in touch with people I’ve met while travelling. It’s almost a ritual: You meet someone in some far-off location, you hang out for a day or two, you form a bond, and then you go your separate ways. Except, first you “friend” each other on Facebook.
Without my account I’d have no idea how to contact most of those people ever again. Which would be a bit sad. So I’m still on it. It’s addictive, all of this stuff. I don’t think it’s such a problem at home, when you need a distraction on the bus to work, or you’re bored of Australia’s appalling TV. But for travellers, social media is an issue, a time-sucker, a way of closing yourself off from the very things you travelled so far to do.
So, fellow travellers, you have a challenge: get off your phones. Fight the urge to share your tales, to brag about your meals, to whine about your hostel, to review your day trip or share photos of your view. Don’t even take a phone with you. Choose, instead, to speak to people, to take in your surroundings, to taste your food instead of photographing it, to make friends instead of collecting them, and to enjoy moments for what they are, rather than how they could be shared.
And please: tell me to stop checking Instagram.
Do you think travelers are too obsessed with social media? What’s the solution?