From sightseeing to sightsharing

Looking back on my experiences at Trolltunga, I am convinced that travel is a vehicle for defining self. This idea is shaped by a variety of intersecting moments witnessed as part of my fieldwork. Below I shall try to explain them. Following which, I will also explain the way in which, catalysed by the integration of social media into the tourist experience, tourism (and the presentation of self entailed) shift from a consumptive mode based on physical presence toward one enacted through physical presence and the sharing of personal narratives travel narratives. In this new mode, simply visiting and viewing a tourist location does not satisfy tourists’ needs, value is achieved via the recognition of one’s exploits from others.

Trolltunga feels like a cross between a rugged mountain hike and mainstream tourist destination. The juxtaposition of these disparate elements on site, (personified in the contrast between specialist hikers and sightseeing tourists in groups) emphasised the value which the picture at the end holds as part of the touristic experience. People who seemingly weren’t interested in outdoors culture (or who were outdoors novices) looked out of place in the quite extreme conditions. Despite inadequate equipment (sneakers rather than hiking boots, umbrellas instead of rain gear, shopping bags substituted for backpacks) and moments of self-doubt, seen in strained faces or pained pauses on the side of the track, it felt like most people were determined to soldier on until the very end. While the views on the way are breathtaking in their own right, they cannot fully capture the the site’s iconic appeal. Inevitably it is the photo opportunity on the rock ledge at the end of the hike which defines Trolltunga. On the other side of the coin, I wondered why the seasoned hikers bothered with Trolltunga at all? Having met some, well-provisioned, and coming from very far away, to hike on such a crowded track. There must be many similar, more peaceful Norwegian mountain hikes available for keen hikers. Presumably, it is the photo opportunity that forms the common element which draws this broad range of people to the site. So, if the photo opportunity is such a strong motivator, then why? The rock ledge at Trolltunga is a “sublime stage” and is hence a powerful place for performances of self. The photographs captured at Trolltunga are valuable as artefacts for online self-presentation. Images from such a visually impressive (and, increasingly, famous) landscape can be used as an eye-catching showpiece that bolsters the online self through attention to the feat itself and the connotations which it alludes to and inspires in viewers. These connotational meanings can be shaped by the presentation of the photo (through elements such as the caption, tags, or comments), and also through the contextual background of Trolltunga. I would argue that travel material is frequently deployed within the identity construction project given its positive connotations of worldliness, exoticness, adventure and self-growth. The Trolltunga rock ledge presents a particularly striking travel image, which, given it’s stage-like quality is also well-suited for presenting the self. A perfect combination for social media.

Self performance has been approached in theory on tourism as a mode of creative, individualised consumption. Such theory supports a view of travel as a form of identity construction. Indeed, travel provides a liminal space which is well-suited to identity development via its connotations to the hero and personal transformation. The unfamiliar encountered in foreign scapes promises a respite from familiar environments and social interactions, and a window for change. Today, as travel is shared across online platforms and the audience follows touristic experiences almost in real-time, the identity construction project of the journey is further foregrounded. Identity construction is thus interwoven with how tourist places and events are consumed. The main mode of touristic consumption has so far been conceived of as sightseeing. Within sightseeing, consumption of the tourist destination is achieved by being physically present in the landscape, and, usually, obtaining some kind of momentos (such as photographs, postcards or souvenirs). The touristic destination is seen (and felt, tasted, smelled, heard etc) and at some point after told, preferably, with the use of items (photos, souvenirs, etc) from the location. Based on my experiences at Trolltunga, and considering the integration of ICTs into touristic experience as both a method, and, motivation for touristic consumption, I consider a new development in touristic consumption: “sightsharing”. As noted in the above account, travel stories are far from a new phenomena and these were an important facet of sightseeing. This sharing was, however, an accessory or residual benefit to the consumptive act of visiting the site. In the ICT era, the practice of storytelling is integrated within the act of consumption itself as tourists share narratives on site and in a way that is interactive, allowing for dynamic co-consumption of touristic experiences via ongoing exchanges of storytelling and feedback. With the social media audience available in this way, physical presence is no longer sufficient as a way of experiencing touristic place. Now social media adds value by providing a channel which amplifies the moment and allows for benefits like feedback and esteem. Thus, in sightsharing, travel stories are not only a motivation or goal of experience but a dimension of experience as self-presentation and feedback routines are interwoven throughout the journey and influence how it occurs. As a consequence, tourism experiences and landscapes themselves change shape as they are influenced by the possibilities available within online interactions.  I realised this in Trolltunga as I noticed a number of tourists undertaking the hike with props, or special outfits. Why else would you bother carting this extra weight on such a difficult hike unless the end photo was so important? Similarly, the turn-taking, and posing behaviours which take place at the ledge itself highlight the presentational nature of this place. With sighsharing, we will see the rise of Gopros, drones, tripods and other image capture tools as important elements of touristic experience and concomitantly a decline in more typical tourist souvenirs like postcards, models, magnets or t shirts which had complimented (or introduced) travel stories previously.

Within the sightseeing era, the expense and equipment necessary for analogue photography rendered photographic practice more deliberate and less spontaneous. Moreover, these images could not be shared until they had been printed and the audience encountered. The experience was being there first and foremost, with sharing a distant second. Within sightsharing, the portable, easy to use nature of smartphones facilitates photographic practice and allows people to engage in this behaviour whilst on the go as well as allowing potentially immediate sharing of images. Being there and sharing become one and the same, travel stories an automatic (or automated, i.e. geo-data) part of tourism. Sociotechnical developments including the increasing availability of smartphones, user-friendly editing software and internet access, and a culture of personal profiles and life-sharing fomented by social media platforms, drive the phenomena of sightsharing in which travellers share in order to consume. With the availability of info, narratives need to be personalised with the travellers’ own stamp, thus the trend of recording self image. Just being there, seeing the site, is no longer enough. Pics or it didn’t happen.

  Sightseeing Sightsharing
Mode of consumption Presence Story
Record of experience Momento (photo/ postcard/ souvenir) Personal image
Time of sharing Shared after experience Shared during experience
Benefit of sharing Static capital gain Dynamic, interactive capital gain
Theoretical context Tourist gaze Participatory culture/ Platform society
Tourists’ relationship with the touristic site Audience Performer

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