Whilst the vast majority of travellers these days are involved in one form of travel sharing or another (be it casual email or obsessive compulsive Instagramming) there is little theoretical knowledge about how our physical travel experiences are transformed into online material. And for good reason, the process of sharing travel experiences online is highly personal, involving a number of aesthetic and strategic practices relating to the personality of the traveller, their use of social media platforms and the particular socio-geographical conditions of the place in which travel occurs.
That said, Lo and McKercher recently conducted an insightful study looking at how 13 Cantonese young people (ages 23-35) shared their travel experiences online. In particular, the study focused on how travel photos were shared to the popular social network Facebook. The study conceptualised social media “as a stage where individuals can create, manage and manipulate their own idealized identity” and looked at how the sharing of travel images was enacted with particular goals in mind. The authors claim there are three principle reasons for sharing travel images: 1) impression management (i.e. self presentation), 2) relationship management and 3) aide-memoire. Interestingly, the authors found that impression management was the most prevalent and that self-presentation frequently guides the process of travel sharing even if respondents themselves aren’t aware of this. Owing to the importance that sharing has within the journeys of connected travellers, the authors describe a ‘performative turn’ in travel, concluding that “social comparison” plays a key role in how travel is performed.
From their respondent’s reflections on photography and social media use, Lo and McKercher formulated a 5 step process through which experience is shared online via images and captions (authors’ text in bold with my summary in brackets).
Stage 1: Pre-production
(The decision whether to bring a camera and planning of photo strategy)
Stage 2: On-site production
(The decision of when to click the shutter, and, how many times to click it)
Stage 3: Post production—the cutting room floor
(Selecting which shots will be uploaded)
Stage 4: Post production—editor’s cut and distribution
(Editing and posting selected images)
Stage 5: Critique and reception—post posting dissonance
(Monitoring one’s social media platforms)
After reading this very interesting article, I decided to compare my own practice of recording travel events to social media (this includes not just photographic images but also text and video sharing) based on my experience during this trip (and, indeed, an earlier journey as well). It goes:
1. Frame: The traveller has a strategy for how they will narrativise travel experience in mind before the journey starts. This is constructed through their personality, aesthetic, number and type of active portals, posting rhythm, who they follow and who their imagined audience is. This is not to say that the traveller will necessarily maintain a single unchanging frame but rather that the connected traveller has an innate idea about what they would like to share before having experiences.
2. Prep: This is a relatively underestimated step in sharing travel experience online. In order to record their experiences the traveller needs to prepare necessary equipment (be it a pen and paper, camera or a smartphone) so that it may assist in capturing travel experience. The equipment which the traveller has at hand guides how their travel will be shared.
3. Experience: The traveller has experiences in the landscape. These are to some degree ‘seen’ through their narrative frame, meaning that the traveller has an experience while simultaneously filtering it through an ideal image in their head (i.e. their frame). The degree to which this filtering occurs relates to the traveller’s commitment to recording their journey for the online audience.
4. Transcribe: The traveller records impressive facets of the landscape. This occurs either through an apparatus: camera, video, pen and paper, or through their memory. It may be simultaneous with experience, or post- experience. This raw material will not be uploaded without review.
5. Redact: Recorded travel experience is edited for presentation to the online audience. This occurs through editing software or lighting filters for images, or by re-reading and amending textual material. The traveller aims to maximise potential benefits and minimise potential harm resultant from sharing their experience online. Some material will be edited but will not pass muster for sharing online.
6. Post: Suitable material is uploaded to be shared with the online audience. This includes decisions about the presentation of the experience for the audience such as which platform(s) to post to, what time to post, and what tags to use in order to disseminate posts amongst particular audiences. Here, the availability, and quality, of Internet connection will also influence what form a post will have.
7. Monitor: During Internet use (or, indeed, just having a connection), the traveller monitors audience activity on their platforms and is made aware of responses to existing posts. The number of comments, likes or shares indicate which posts are successful, and what the audience thinks about their experience, and this knowledge is integrated into the traveller’s frame for the future narrativisation of travel events.
8. Memory: The extensive practice of sharing and monitoring travel narratives online means that the traveller’s memory of events begins to resemble the blog narrative. When imagining future travel experiences the traveller refers to their blog and feedback encountered as they frame their experience of future events. Thus, online narrativisation of travel is a hermeutic circle.
I think both methods are pretty similar with mine having more weight on the “pre-production” and the traveller’s development of a frame through which travel is ‘seen’ .This is similar to the idea of the ‘tourist gaze’ or ‘digital tourist gaze’ and I’ll have to work on bringing these ideas together.
To give my steps headings similar to those in Lo & McKerchers study, they could be conflated: [1,2] Frame [3,4] Capture [5,6] Perform [7,8] Memorialise.
Lo, I.S. & McKercher, B. (2015). Ideal image in process: Online tourist photography and impression management. Annals of Tourism Research, 52, 104–116. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2015.02.019.