By: Varsha Patel
As you’re covered in sweat after what feels like an endless trail of a steep incline path, and you try to quickly regulate your breathing so that your friends won’t think you’re horrendously unfit, you finally reach the top of this epic viewpoint that NatGeo insisted you see. What’s the first thing you do? Find yourself grateful for the beauty that is our planet? Look down at the ants in the city that you once were earlier that day, hustling around with their tourist office maps and gelatos? Or do you remind yourself how lucky you are to be travelling around the world and seeing such sights that you’d never experience in your day-to-day life? Nope – none of the above. You switch your phone – the one you already had in your hand – into camera mode, and size up your surroundings for the best pic. A pic that’ll make your Instagram followers comment with the *heart eye* emoji, or the *sad face I’m so jealous* reaction. “This is unreal,” you mutter, as you size up the best angle of that sunset, and take both portrait and landscape versions of the exact same picture 8 times.
“Shall we go back down now?” you ask your friends, after deciding you’ve got the Instaworthy shot and with that, all that needed to be seen and experienced at this viewpoint can officially be checked off your tourism bucket list.
And when you’re back at your hotel room, saving your Snapchat stories to upload the same pictures to your Instagram stories (they’re different audiences, duh), the location tag seems to give you an unknown name of the said viewpoint… “Erm, what was that place we were at earlier called?”
Folks, if you don’t even know the name of where you visited, surely you’re doing your holiday wrong?! Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with posting your holiday pics (or any pics, at that!) online, but hear me out – maybe, just maybe, you should put the photo opp a little lower down on your list of priorities.
But all of this has got me thinking – why do we feel the need to post our holidays online? In the good old days, we’d take the pics on our disposable cameras, develop them and then tuck them away in a photo album somewhere to gather dust until extended family came over. So is it the accessibility and ease of social media that entices us all to post?
Dr. Linda Kaye, senior lecturer in psychology at Edge Hill University, explains that while Instagram is a useful tool for researching your destination before you go, it is more likely that people post about their holiday – either before, during or after – as a “form of self-presentational behavior”:
“That is, holidays are usually a pleasant and desirable aspect of our lives, and a good example of the ‘best bits’ which often get represented about our lives on social media. As a form of self-presentation, people are able to share the enhanced aspects of their lives to gain positive experiences with their networks.”
Kaye adds that these posts can be “reinforced through likes and comments” as other social media users can ‘validate the positive experiences associated with this.”
Dr. Erin Vogel, postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychology at the University of California, agrees that desire to post on social media during your holiday stems from wanting to “present the best possible versions of ourselves,” as many want to “show their fun, adventurous sides” and to show their network that they are doing exciting things:
Dr. Mark Griffifths, distinguished professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University, highlights how posting on Instagram has “become a key source of personal expression”:
“For many people, [posting online] helps create their identity for how they wish others to see them and can be a source of boosting self-esteem.”
Griffiths continues by outlining the main motivations for posting online are self-confidence, environmental enhancement, social competition, attention seeking, mood modification and subjective conformity.
This all sounds quite scary now that it’s put under the microscope like this – so what are the dangers around this (if any)?
Kaye argues that safety and security is an issue, especially as “individuals are compromising the security of their home or place of work if people know they are away.” Kaye adds that insurance companies often invalidate home insurance if there’s evidence of claimants posting online during time away from their home.
Kaye adds that another downside is the fact that holidays are a time to disconnect and unwind: “Sometimes holidays can be an opportunity to disconnect from the digital world, which may not be possible if people are still using social media to post information about their holiday.
“This doesn’t have to be a downside, as they could be creating and curating a platform of positive memories, but there may be a risk that they continue to use their digital connectiveness to engage with work-related tasks, such as work emails.”
Vogel says that excessive social media posting can “distract us from being ‘in the moment’ and fully experiencing our holiday.”
Griffiths emphasises however that “very few individuals would ever be addicted to such an activity.” So don’t worry – your 70 post-deep Insta story isn’t necessarily a cause for concern…
Time for a detox?
Griffiths points out that Instagram has “made the individual more self-aware” which, while for some can be a good thing, for others, it may make them “feel worse if they are insecure and compare their own selfies with others.”
So does this likelihood, alongside the risk of not living in the moment, warrant a digital detox when you’re travelling? Kaye notes there is “little evidence to suggest how effective things like ‘digital detox’ actually are from a health and well-being perspective”:
“Everyone will experience [a digital detox] in a different way and this doesn’t necessarily represent a binary experience on whether you are switched on or off.
“The reality is that there is more likely to be a continuum of tasks that people may switch off from (e.g. emails) but remain switched on in other ways (e.g. accessing maps). Given how multi-faceted devices such as smartphones are, it is unlikely these would be entirely switched off, even if there may be reduced connection to the online world.”
However, if you do feel like a digital detox may be the right step for you, Vogel advises that even a short detox can “help reduce stress levels”, adding “switching off can feel uncomfortable at first, but it can also be liberating”:
“For those who are not ready to completely switch off, I’d suggest using social media in moderation and not sharing photos immediately. Try to set aside some time at the end of the day or week to share photos, rather than being constantly connected to social media.”
So there you have it. You might not necessarily have a problem, but you may still be holidaying for the #gram.
About the author: Varsha Patel is a London-based journalist currently working as a senior editor at LexisNexis. Varsha tweets at @pretendjourno.