Shooting and sharing on the GoPro


Seeing life from the heavens looking down helps us be more aware of the incredible nature of our world. That’s what our brand is all about, helping you capture and relive experiences that celebrate you as a human.

Nick Woodman, Founder and CEO of GoPro

Last week, action sports capture device company GoPro unveiled its new 5th generation products: the Hero 5 camera and Karma drone. Why is this related to online travel narratives? GoPro’s cameras arguably birthed the class of small, weather and impact resistant cameras which are used widely in the capture of POV and drone imagery today. GoPros are also used by travel photographers as a way to capture images in wet, wild or crowded conditions where a regular camera would be damaged or a burden to the photographer; by extreme sports enthusiasts and by travellers who want the lightest possible capture device on the market.

Regarding the use of GoPros for the telling of travel narratives, it is interesting to note the way in which the company positions themselves not as a consumer electronics (i.e. camera) company but rather as a content capture company by working on a variety of accessories including applications for wireless transfer and cloud storage designed to facilitate the process of recording and sharing content using GoPro cameras. Brand analyst, Jeff Harbaugh provides this reflection on the brand positioning of GoPro:

You aren’t for people who want to take snapshots either. That’s what we’ve got cell phones for. But if you can be the chosen way for the active outdoor market to create, edit, produce, and share content and if you can tie that community to you through not just your camera technology but your proprietary software, then you will be meeting a social need and requirement of the millennials, now a larger generation than the baby boomers.

Here, Harbaugh highlights the social need for younger generations to create and share content on social media as part of their day to day socialising and GoPro’s positioning as an enabler of this behaviour. In general, the development of drone technology has opened up a whole new angle for lifestyle capture. The social and legal implications of drone use are still unfolding and it will be interesting to see if drones like Karma become a popular travel accessory as they become more portable and reliable.

Looking at GoPro here brings to light the way in which consumer goods companies and social media platforms (or other types of content management systems) shape both the travel experience and the way in which online travel narratives are told. Crouch and Desforges (2003, p.13) explain that the use of a camera shapes experience as the tourists’ vision and memory are extended by the camera’s viewfinder, stating: “To use a camera is to experience place through the lens, with its creation of borders, inclusions and exclusions, its potential capacity to enlarge the scene in front of us, or illuminate through the flash.” With its slew of accessories in hardware and software form, the frontier of the GoPro ranges from so intimate to so large that it arguably starts to lose its borders. It is hard to think of a situation the GoPro can’t capture. With the rewards present on social media for new and interesting images, and the continual arrival of new products to facilitate travel capture, it easy to imagine that the content and quantity of online travel narratives will continue to increase. It will be interesting to monitor the repercussions of new technologies on the “interpersonal dimensions” of travel (Crouch & Desforges, 2003), and also to follow how the balance between experience and capture is enacted as travel technology and the online audience become more pervasive elements within the journey.

A final thought, the GoPro doesn’t have a viewfinder (or at least didn’t on previous models) meaning that the photographer is more likely to turn it on and let it roll, rather than framing and selecting specific scenes while in the landscape. Does this speak to a mode of automated capture (and perhaps, editing and upload) coming in the future, leaving the traveller free to experience the moment with the evidence provided by a machine?

Sources

Harbaugh, J. (2015, July 29). GoPro’s Quarter. What Kind of Company is This Anyway? Jeff Harbaugh and Associates.
Crouch, D. & Desforges, L. (2003). The sensuous in the tourist encounter. Tourist Studies, 3(1), 5–22. DOI: 10.1177/1468797603040528

“Pressure” in Online Travel Photography

wall street journal a travellers guide to social media (sourced)

Reporting on connected tourism trends in a report commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board, We Are Social’s Simon Kemp reflects on the “pressure” felt by social media users within image sharing platforms such as Instagram to produce high quality content in order to stand out from a crowd of mixed amateur and professional content. To alleviate this pressure, Kemp suggests that destinations provide directions so that tourists can find the best angles of a particular scene or even go so far as to provide on-site professional photographers to assist tourists in phototaking. While these tips may indeed help tourists to collect memorable and shareworthy snaps, will it not be just a matter of time until feeds are well stocked with these special angles and slick packaging, and the pressure to find something new fills in once again?
This phenomena of social media induced pressure to create and share is well worth investigating. Visit an internationally famous tourist site, or prowl the travel blogosphere and you will find evidence of the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between social media using tourists and the destinations they visit. Take the selfie stick, a metonym for online photography, banned from numerous destinations and the bearer of stigmatised names like “narcisstick”, yet still quite popular, and indeed, useful, for capturing travel images. Notice also the changing standards of behaviour and experience of connected tourists who view the travelled to landscape in terms of photo opportunities and fail to connect with local ambience. Online, numerous voices opine that the need to constantly capture and share is ruining the experience of the journey. The compulsion to document one’s trip does, moreover, change the dynamics of tourist space. Photographic practices including the physical movement of the photographer and the scope of their lens do indeed take up a significant amount of space, and, with more and more people engaged in this behaviour, and valuable capital on the line, the activity starts to rub antagonistically with other tourists and locals. Not surprisingly, photography related accidents and fatalities are on the rise.

So where does this pressure to document and share come from? The imperative of travel photography to capture and record exotic experience is well covered (Sontag 1977, Urry 1990), but what affect does the addition of an online audience virtually tagging along (Urry 2002) with the journeyer add? In a study of the photographic practices of young Korean tourists, Lo & McKercher (2015) report 3 principal reasons for tourist photography: aide memoire, relationship management and impression management/self presentation. It can be seen that these last two motivations have come to the fore as the audience sits on our shoulder while we have our overseas experiences. In the era of social media, tourist experience is an effective vehicle for making assertions about what type of person one is given travel’s positive connotations with cosmopolitanism, wisdom and adventure. While on the one hand, published images are shared within the frame of the users’ profile, images do also end up in a wider menagerie of similarly tagged content. Over time online travel photos end up in competition against the content of other users and against one’s own previous creations (Dinhopl & Gretzel 2016). This competition is scored via the metrics of social media success: likes, follows and shares. The bar is set high. Or perhaps more correctly, it is set by tourism tastemakers. A recent article in The New York Times recounts the way in which Instagram, like basically all popular social media platforms, has been hijacked as a promotional tool by industry: “Tourist boards flew popular Instagrammers to their idyllic locations and paid them to post impossibly stunning photographs to attract other world trekkers.” In such an environment of performance and reward users strive to “again and again present the self as extraordinary and different” (Dinhopl & Gretzel, 2016) in a game of “social comparison” (Lo & McKercher, 2015).

The consequences of tourists online performance may easily ripple out into the wider world. Recounting a recent trip to Angkor Wat, reporter Mary Pilon recounts, “the fight for the perfect Instagram” taking place amongst the mob of technology equipped tourists jostling to snap the ideal picture of the famous monument at dawn. Looking further into this phenomena of compulsively documenting and sharing our travel experience, Pilon explores the subject with well followed Instatraveller, Annie He. Here He describes the palpable “pull to share” created by her 60, 000+ followers and the fact that this pull, and the rewards it offers, has led her to cross her personal safety thresholds in the name of a satisfying snap.  What then happens when this threshold is crossed time and time again by users competing in a tournament of what writer, Timothy Egan has called, “documentary one-upmanship.”

A recent blog post by Internet scholar, Jill Walker Rettberg brings to light the way one destination marketing organizations’ promotion of a picturesque cliff outcrop in Norway that was stated to be able to garner, “an avalanche of likes” if shared on social media, preceded, and indirectly contributed to, the fatality of a traveller engaged in photographing this site. This tragic example highlights the disjunctive relationship between destination marketing organisations, connected tourists and destinations/ hosts at this time in which picturesque travel experience is promoted to the point of jepordising personal safety. The “pressure” felt by tourists to successfully document their travel online contributes to this problem and as such merits further investigation. In my opinion, it would also be fair to say that the repercussions of our relentless image quest do indeed go beyond physical consequences and potentially damage the intercultural exchange within touristic “contact zones” (Pratt, 1992) as tourists are too preoccupied with chronicling their trip to notice the space around them. It would be interesting then to see how the increasing volume of photographic activity is accommodated by tourist spaces and how it is operates within the social reality of particular sites. This could include things like investigating how tourist photography at a destination is viewed by the people who live there, as well as business and tourist operators, and tourists themselves. Another point of inquiry would be investigating the processes through which travel photography occurs and the factors which influence this such as the interplay between what the traveller says and portrays online and their physical experiences.

The trend of recording and sharing one’s travel moments online shows no signs of stopping – rather it is demonstrating that it is it’s own mode of tourist experience, a ‘digital gaze’ (Dinhopl & Gretzel, 2016). Here, increased knowledge about the practice of recording travel online will lead to ideas on how to better structure tourism to accommodate travel recording behaviour in a sustainable way. This could be through interventions in physical tourist space, online publishing communities or the “hermeneutic circle” (Urry, 1992) of travel recording.

Cover Image reblogged from Wall Street Journal A Traveler’s Guide to Social Media

Shutter clicks: A review of the photographic record of my trip

record

It was John Urry who said that “travel is a strategy for the accummulation of photographs”  (1990, p.139).

Indeed, it seems that during travel my photographic activity did dramatically increase, and, after 3 months I am left with a pile much larger than that which I would collect in the same period of daily life.  With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to look through the photographic record of the trip that exists in the memory of my personal photographic devices (camera and smartphone). The purpose of this activity being to gain a broad overview of my travel image taking (i.e. the amount and type of photos I took), in order to develop a better idea of what I thought was photoworthy during my trip and the process through which I took travel photographs.

The first step was to calculate the total number of travel photos (i.e. any image created within the period of my travel) in each device memory. The Iphone 6 is quite a thoughtful technology in this respect, its geotagging technology allows one to see on a map where they took photos and how many they took. Scroll in and this information gets more detailed as one is able to go from country to region to city/suburb. This is quite a time saver. After a little tallying, I found I had 844 images from the trip on my phone. The two SD cards from my 7700 Nikon Coolpix, would, however, require a more manual analysis. On these I found, 564 trip items (i.e. photo and video), thus making a grand total of 1408 clicks of the shutter.

The second step was a content analysis of my photographs in which they were grouped according to the main subject, or, the purpose with which a photo was taken (as I am analysing my own photographs, I can remember the intention with which each was taken). By personal practice or perhaps because I have copius free memory available on my Iphone and SD cards, I don’t often delete photos after I take them and so I have an almost complete photo record of my trip.


Results:

  Phone Camera Total
Landscape 308 218 526
Travel companion 381 57 438
Critical Blog 60 144 204
Travel blog 18 89 107
Information 84 7 91
Me and travel companion 79 3 82
Video 31 5 36
Me 24 0 24
  1408
Doubles 237 96 333

Photos of the landscape: (Phone: 308 + Camera: 218) = 526
This includes any photos of the foreign landscape (without myself and my travel companion) that weren’t taken for my blogs. These feature things like scenic views, food, signs, animals, and accidental photographs which are blurred or without an obvious subject. A small percentage of these were uploaded online (around 5%).

Photos of my travel companion: (P 381 + C 57) = 438
These are any photos in which my wife is present, excluding, however, those in which we both are present.

Photos for my critical blog: (P 60 + C 144) = 204
The purpose of this blog you are reading now is to reflect on how connectivity affects the practice of recording travel. Part of the process of this reflection was observing Internet connections in the places I visited and the way these were utilised by travellers. This included taking a number of pictures to support my observations, some of which were uploaded to this blog.

Photos for my travel blog: (P 18 + c 89) = 107
I have a somewhat unique blog in which I draw a sketch of the day and then photograph this sketch and upload it on Tumblr. As lighting is quite important for achieving a good result here, sometimes I may photograph the same sketch multiple times.

Photographs of information = (P 84 + C 7) = 91
These are photos which include some kind of information which would prove useful later on in the trip. This is things like screenshots of timetables, contact information and online advertisements taken on my phone. It also includes photos of maps, Google driving routes and landmarks used for navigation.

Photos of me and my travel companion: (P 79 + C 3) = 82

Videos: (P 31+ C 5) = 36

Photos of me= (P 24) = 24
Where I am present only.

************

A final category here is ‘doubles’, that is, photos which were taken in close succession and in which the framing is almost exactly the same but in which the position of the subject may differ slightly. This was found to be 333 photos in total (P 237 + C 96), or about 1/5 of my total. Here, one photo from each set of doubles was not counted (i.e. 7 near identical shots would be counted as 6).

Reflections on the data:

> In total I took about two thirds of my pictures with my phone, this percentage would likely be even larger, however, I left my phone in a hotel room and didn’t have it for a month (4/28 – 5/24). As my phone is compact and has more than one function, I found it easy to carry around with me.

> For photos which I knew I was going to publish on my social networks, I tended to use my camera which takes higher quality pictures. Conversely, I used my phone, which is more portable, for candid pictures of the landscape, my travel companion or information useful to the journey.

>  My wife is featured in a large number of photographs as I felt like I had an opportunity to help her remember the trip fondly by doing this. Conversely, I know my wife took a substantial number of shots of me as well.

> Only about 10% of the photographs taken contain myself and only a very small percentage (2%) contain me only. Perhaps as I knew my wife was taking photos of/for me.

> About ¼ of my photos were of subjects featured in my blogs.

> The daily average is 14.08 shutter clicks. This pattern was not, however, evenly distributed with some days having no photographs and around 100.

> Videos were extended slices of the landscape, intended to capture atmospheric details like background noises or the full panorama of a chosen location.

> ‘Doubles’ are, I think, a fairly new travel photography practice which has been brought about by digital technologies in which the user can easily delete photos (in tandem with the ultrafast shutter speeds of newer smartphones). This technique allows the photographer to snap a number of shots of a particular subject in order to increase the likelihood of achieving a good photo. I used this technique particularly with moving subjects (or when I was moving, e.g. in a car) as an alternative to a single well-timed click.

Conclusions:


In their exploration of online tourist photography, Lo and McKercher (2015) identify three main reasons why travellers take cameras with them, these are: 1) aide memoire, 2) relationship management, and, 3) impression management (i.e. self presentation). I would say that my photography did indeed fall into the purview of these three areas. While taking photographs was partly a method for me to capture and remember things I liked or which were significant to me(1), it also served the purpose of having something to share with friends (2,3), a way of crystalising and verifying my interpretations of the foreign landscape which I shared on my blog (3), a way of making travel easier by storing information (1), and, a way to prospectively increase my companion’s enjoyment by recording the trip’s pleasant moments (2).

I have analysed ‘my’ photographic record here. As I proceeded through this task, however, I came to realise that not all photos within my device memory were in fact my own. While cameras and especially phones are personalised devices (smartphones commonly requiring a key code to enter) some of the images in my device memory were taken, with my complicity, by my wife, or, by complete strangers. A handful of these images (around 10) were downloaded into my record, rather than taken as a photograph. When I started I assumed the photographic narrative I was looking through was a chronological record of my own voice, and as such univocal and linear. Instead I find that it contains polyvocal and nonlinear elements.

Another salient point that comes to play here, is that because I was travelling with my wife, we effectively shared the responsibility for recording travel moments, and, indeed, acted as photographers for each other. Sometimes when we went out only one of us had a device, and thus this person took the role of taking photos for, and of, the other one (my wife is featured in about 1/3 of my shots). When I didn’t have a camera of my own and saw something interesting I asked my wife to take photos or took photos myself using her phone. Afterwards, these images can be easily shared via an Internet connection or Bluetooth. This same practice of image swapping would, I’d say, occur with many groups travellers as it provides a convenient way to enlarge one’s photographic record and to get pictures of oneself in the landscape.

It would be fair to deduce, that, because I travelled with another person, and, with online narratives such as my blogs, that my trip photography was a social activity in which the decision to take a photo frequently occurs with an audience in mind. Indeed, Dinhopl and Gretzel (2016) contend that connected travellers see the landscape not only through their own eyes but those of the imagined audience as well. Indeed, what I saw as photoworthy in the landscape was influenced by my online social circles, and, particularly, the presence of my travel companion with whom I could share images. This may not have been the case in previous times when travellers were more separated from their contacts and photographic images were more costly to produce. It is interesting to note here, following this comment on the increased profusion of photos within travel, the way in which informational content also forms a significant part of my photo record, highlighting the increased role technology plays in how travellers see, navigate, and experience the landscape.

In a future study, it would be interesting to expand the size of the photographic record surveyed in order to include other sites where records of the trip from myself and others are available, such as my computer memory (such as screenshots and photos downloaded in relation to the trip), my travel companion’s photos, photos taken by others that are displayed on my social networking websites and any other images collected throughout the trip (such as a disc me and my bought from a professional photographer who accompanied a day tour we went on). Such a study would help highlight the way in which the traveller not only sees but also remembers their travel in a social way as images are collected from a number of sources and form a kind of collaborative collage across their digital devices/profiles. Such a study would also highlight the increasingly distributed and polyvocal nature of travel narratives in their digital form.

Reflections on my Method

My methodology can be considered successful as I was able to gather data about my practice of travel recording through social media. It must, however, be considered an experimental method owing to the fact that there has been relatively limited application of autoethnography within the fields of social media and tourism. My study was also (as far as I am aware) one of the first with the explicit intention of closely investigating the personal processes through which tourists plan, capture, edit and post their experiences online (here is another). As such, besides proposing a workable method through which tourist experience recording can be studied, my study will also be able to recommend a number of possible modifications which may benefit future studies.

Here’s a visualisation of my method, showing it’s three key activities: observe, log, reflect; and some thoughts on my methodological now that I have finished my trip.

DSCN0564

How to log travel recording

My research explored how travel experiences are recorded to social media, however, while travelling, not all of my social media use necessarily related to the practice of travel recording. While I frequently used platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress and Line to share my travel happenings and communicate with family and friends, other times I used social media platforms like YouTube in a way that was related purely to my entertainment. Thus, in order to accurately record how much time I spent recording my travel on social media, I would need some kind of metric which would allow me to differentiate between different kinds of social media use.

In order to measure my time spent recording travel online, I made the basic assumption that all of my productive social media use could be considered travel recording. To explain more, any usage when content was created such as writing messages or blog posts was considered as time spent travel recording. Moreover, my definition of productive activities did also include the peripheral activities which are part of this process including things like time spent browsing the posts of other users in one’s news feed before writing, or between replies. The reason for including the, seemingly passive, activity of browsing others’ posts into my definition of travel recording is that this activity informs the users’ productive actions in terms of tone, content ,and, perhaps even wider effects such as frequency of posting. Thus, my metric for identifying travel recording was “productive use on platforms where I have an account”.

In contrast to “productive” social media use during travel recording, social media usage for entertainment purposes (such as watching a clip on YouTube that was not recommended by a contact), or, browsing social media platforms where I am not a member and as such cannot easily contribute, were not considered as productive social media usage. While this distinction between separate productive and consumptive behaviours within social media is somewhat problematic owing to the participatory, ‘produsage’ inherent to social media in which users are invited to blend viewing/creating behaviours (see the work of Axel Bruns and Henry Jenkins), this metric avoids the need to isolate, and log, each travel recording incident separately – a seemingly tedious task which would require it’s own metrics for determining exactly when travel recording stopped and started.

The logic at play here is that social media relates to one’s current circumstances and as such I felt that all my usage within my personal profiles while travelling would inevitably comment in some way upon my trip. While not perhaps strictly true (I could, particularly in the case of professional email, compose messages which didn’t touch upon my journey at all), this logic formed a pragmatic structure that allowed me to successfully estimate how much time I spent recording travel and what activities this was composed of. This broad spectrum approach did also have the advantage of encompassing the time that I spent purely browsing the posts of my contacts, an activity which I think had significant impact upon how I would record an event, seeing as these contacts are my social peers (indeed, it is this same idea of produsage mentioned above which made me sensitive to the significance of this consumptive behaviour to my own production). Thus, I felt that “all productive social media use on member platforms” was a good metric for my purpose.

Back home….the narrative stops here?

The data I collected about my online travel narrative pertains only to the period when I was out of my home.  Travel recording may, however, continue after the traveller returns home especially if their narrative lags behind their itinerary as mine does. While I do keep a log of my post trip travel recording, it has proved much harder for me to apply the same metric (i.e. all productive social media use on member platforms) and keep accurate records here. The problem is that once the user returns home their communication inevitably begins to turn toward ‘home’ events and thus instances of travel recording share time with more quotidian communication and the metric of ‘all productive social media use’ can no longer be reliably applied to travel recording.

My study focused specifically on travel recording as this occurred outside the traveller’s home space. While this focus was useful for exploring the intersections between my online travel narrative and my experience of the foreign landscape, this focus on the travel experience (potentially, at the expense of pre and post trip periods) was something of an oversight on my part. Indeed, some studies show that significant amounts of the travel narrative are posted from the travellers’ home country pre, or post, trip (I’m searching for my reference for this…). Now that I am back home, I do, indeed, require a different metric in order to determine what social media usage is travel related, and what isn’t. So far, what has been of most use is the question, ‘does this pertain to my trip?’ While simple, this question leaves the researcher responsible for determining what constitutes travel recording and what doesn’t and may as such limit the spectrum of activities which are at play. It also requires the researcher to continually interrupt the natural flow of their social media use in order to ask this question. Additionally, the logging process is also made more difficult as social media usage is cut into, ‘home’ and ‘trip’ segments’.

While each of the metrics discussed above has their individual merits, it appears that neither is ideal for isolating travel recording activities on social media across the entire lifespan of the travel recording process. In hindsight, a study of travel recording which encompasses the entire travel recording process (including pre, and post trip periods) should prove the most insightful for understanding the personal processes through which travel experience becomes online content. Because my study focused on the relationship between the online travel narrative and the travel experience, the metric employed in my study was designed to suit recording in the foreign landscape. For future studies, it may prove a good idea for a researcher to look for a single metric (such as: does this pertain to my trip?) which can be used across the lifespan of a trip, from planning to post trip in the home country in order to provide a more holistic picture of the processes through which the online travel narrative is composed.

Reflections on my Data

In the previous post I showed a visualisation of my data which included the places I travelled to, how much time I spent using the Internet that day and what type of connectivity I encountered. Some questions that arise here are, how do I define travel recording? And, how did I measure the activities which constitute it?

I see travel recording as being composed of three different types of activities:

1) Social Media: This is time spent using social media productively to record my travel experience. This includes composing my own material on platforms like Facebook, Tumblr or Line and also browsing the posts of others in my newsfeed. It does not, however, include purely consumptive behaviour such as watching a video on YouTube for entertainment purposes (read more here).

2) Email: Again, this includes time spent both reading and composing emails in my three personal email accounts.

3) Offline: This is activities related to travel recording which don’t require an Internet connection. This includes practices like photography, photo editing, drawing (one of my blogs features my sketches of travel events) and even things like time spent driving to reach an area with Internet connection in order to upload posts.

I recorded the amount of time that I spent recording travel by keeping a daily log of the above three activities. To do which I used my wristwatch and the clock on my computer to help me keep a running tally of the time I spent engaged in travel recording activities throughout the day. At night time I entered the total hours for each respective category into my log. The times recorded in the log are informed estimates rather than exact figures. While an exact figure would, perhaps, be preferable, many of the practices involved in recording travel are fluid, meaning that they would be challenging to record precisely using the auto-ethnographic method. An example of this can be seen in the way a web browser (or, smartphone) allows the user to constantly switch between different tabs, and different processes, creating a usage pattern which is dynamic and intuitive. This same fluid usage behaviour, does, however, makes it extremely difficult for the user to give an accurate estimate of the time spent on one particular task as they are constantly flicking between different tabs. When I was recording my travel experiences to social media or email I frequently used other tabs such as Google search (to obtain information), Google translate, or Wiktionary (to check spelling). Additionally, given that travel recording is a leisure activity for me, I also commonly had tabs with content sent to me by my social media contacts or with completely unrelated material. I would drift into this material for a break from recording, or while waiting for a reply, and later, drift back to my emails or social media. In short, my practice of recording travel online was a dynamic process which did not occur in a homogenous, linear way but rather as a stop/start, multisited process. In light of my dynamic digital routine, keeping a completely accurate log of time spent recording travel seems a difficult process and I preferred instead to use an informed estimate of how much time I spent each day. If the researcher was interested in gaining more exact timings of use they could try a timing application (perhaps with multiple timers) which could be present on the desktop or a window on the user’s smartphone or browser.

A similar challenge can be seen in the ‘offline’ travel recording practices, while some activities like drawing or editing photos are relatively straight forward and easy to time, the practice of travel photography throws a considerable curveball at the researcher. How does one estimate time spent engaged in travel photography? As a very broad description, is it time spent with a camera or smartphone at hand in the foreign landscape? Or, on the other extreme, is it only the time which leads up to the shutter being pressed (i.e. the physical framing and clicking)? While this second option might seem to do a good job of encompassing the practice of travel photography, it neglects the travellers’ mental framing process in which particular sites are assessed for their suitability as photos – an essential part of the photography process. In order to make my estimates for my log, I logged travel photography as time spent ‘hunting’ pictures, that is, time spent in the landscape with the main purpose of taking photos. While this would not encompass many instances when photos were taken as a spur of the moment decision (usually with my smartphone as my camera is heavier and I only take it out when I’m sure I will be taking photos), it also included time when no photos were taken but my mental image framing process was in operation and thus, to me, struck a happy midpoint.

See anything amiss here? I’d be happy to hear about it!

A Google Map of My Trip

I’m back home and beginning to look at the data from my travel. Using Google Maps I’ve been able to make a map of my trip which shows not only my itinerary, i.e. where I was on any given day, but also the hours spent recording travel and the main type of connectivity encountered that day.

Being able to combine my different data streams (i.e. itinerary, recording log) into a holistic pictorial representation is very useful in allowing me to spot different trends in my practice recording travel and also in calculating overall statistics. This includes things like how much time I spent recording travel each day on average, and how different zones of connectivity affect how much time I spend recording travel.

It looks like this:
map small

The different icons indicate different zones of connectivity (a star is ‘residential’, a circle is ‘transit’, and an inverted teardrop is ‘remote’). Cooler colours indicate less time recording to travel to social media while hotter colours indicate more. The icons have been placed in a way which is not geographically accurate but which rather allows for the best visualisation of the data. Similarly, the use of one single point for each day of the trip is problematic as it reduces the amount of movement that actually took place within the trip (for example, many day trips are omitted form the map), however, this was the best way to match my itinerary with my recording log.

Some interesting insights:

Average time recording travel per day= 2 hrs 52 mins

Approximately 50% of the time spent recording travel was on social media , 30% on offline activities like taking photographs, editing or drafting and  20% on email.  Thus, social media travel recording was about ¾ online activties, ¼ offline activities.

Approximately half of my time was spent in transit connectivity, with the remaining half split fairly equally between residential and remote spaces.

On moving days, I spent on average thirty minutes less recording travel than on stationary days indicating a weak correlation between situatedness and travel recording.

At first glance, it seems like there isn’t a strong correlation between time spent recording travel and connectivity type. This is because, for a short time at least, a spotty Internet connection can be supplemented by offline preparation.

Is Social Media Ruining Travel: What I Think

DSCN0435-001

Has social media ruined travel? Take a look at the results on Google and you can see that this is something of a hot button issue. All that aside, however, this question does inevitably lead to the thought that, now that we travel with myriad information and social relationships in our pockets, how can we be expected to really sink into and interact with the landscapes that we visit while travelling?  I have looked at some insightful perspectives on this question in a post here.

Now, I’d like to take the opportunity to put down what I think about social media and travel, looking particularly at how connectivity changes how travel is told. My first overseas travel adventure occurred in the era of unconnected travel, and I thought that by comparing this and my current trip, I might gain an image of how travel is different today owing to connectivity.

with and without 2

Devices:
I carry a lot more devices now. Each device has accessories and cumulatively these are weighty. While devices are multi-functional and have the potential to replace other items in one’s backpack (books are a great example here. Wang & Fesenmaier 2013, p.6), many electronic devices are expensive, fragile and needy (i.e. electricity), and thus potentially limit movement (remote areas where one is exposed to the elements and electricity is not constant, for example, become less appealing). While I have more information and entertainment than previously, devices add weight to my backpack and restrict my movement.

Where I use: With the spread of wireless networks Internet usage is much more convenient. With my own device I can use the Internet at my leisure, and, I tend to record travel in a private space such as a hotel room. This suggests more time outside the travelled-to landscape.

How often I use: Much more often. Experiences are shared closer to the event, giving the audience the ability to respond to my narrative closer to the time of experience.

What platforms: I have more platforms where I record travel now and there is a shift from private to more public sharing. The way I record travel is more dynamic with images a principal part of travel sharing.
Finally, the million dollar question: is social media ruining travel? A lot of the arguments seem to position social media at odds with the ‘spirit’ of travel (the experience of going to foreign lands, broadening one’s horizons and growing as a person) based on the reasoning that, with connection, we don’t necessarily move beyond our home space even after a physical journey. Looking at the way I used social media on my recent trip, I can see that the practice of travel recording is much more front and centre compared to ten years ago. Travel recording takes more of my time and bag space and I am more likely to remain in zones of connectivity as I travel. I spend more time online and thanks to the spread of wireless networks, I update and monitor my narrative on a daily basis as I move about. My travel stories are now more public and audience feedback received closer to the event. This wider audience provides a new source of inspiration to go out and have experiences, however, the process of sharing (i.e things like preparing my devices or using the Internet in my hotel room) does also limit the amount of time I can spend in the landscape.

Many of my travel experiences have been shared online and are remembered more fondly as I relive this experience in conversations with friends, family or strangers. When travelling, I also need to be aware, however, of how much time I spend on social media and when to limit this in order to allow space for me to appreciate the places I am visiting. While I am undoubtedly more connected, and, many times, take a ‘home’ state of mind into the landscape (thinking about a recent conversation or upcoming post), it is worth remembering that, in the face of the varied physical landscapes and aleatory sensory encounters of travel, connection is not everpresent, or all-powerful: signals wane, batteries die, devices go walkabout, conversations and news feeds get boring. I still travel to experience new things and though I may share experiences with others more often, this doesn’t necessarily negate the personal significance of these events. Social media use hasn’t ruined my experience of travel. It has, however, greatly increased the records of the places I go to and the time I spend making these. This means more memories for when I’m old but perhaps a slower pace of travel as I spend more time recording and sharing.

What do you think?