Despite being a fiery Italian (at least half of me is), I rarely publish rants on Instagram. It might happen on Facebook, where I still keep my private life and my friends separated from the rest of the world. But not on other platforms.
Today, though, I woke up to fellow Instagramers from London promoting an app they are featured in (also hiding their involvement). And what I saw made me run to my keyboard to start typing.
The app itself seems almost innocuous and even a cool idea to some. It points out exact locations where to shoot that insta-worthy photo (#instarepeat I would say). And even best time and gear to use (imprecisely). It doesn’t have the most appealing design, but that doesn’t seem to be much worth a rant. But I’ll get to the details in a moment.
Soon after I posted my rant in my Instagram stories, both the co-founder and the CEO of the agency behind the app got in touch with me. They highlighted all the good intentions they had with the app. They sounded believable. And I’m glad they partner with Leave No Trace in their project (though there are no details about that).
If anything, their guilt is superficiality.
We already have big corporations like Facebook telling the rest of the world they can’t be held responsible for how people (mis)use their platform. And they can tell it as much as they want, but in the eyes of the world, they are. They have a huge responsibility for how the world is turning ugly in this day and age.
The app owners have not explicitly said this to me. But I still hold them responsible…
Even if your goal is to help create or learn how to improve someone’s photography, and inspire them to travel to beautiful destinations, you have a responsibility for what happens when users turn to the dark side.
And I’m talking about the dark side of mass tourism, which already greatly misuses Instagram itself.
This app doesn’t have a big entry barrier: it’s free for all and available in several countries, so anybody can use it. There are premium features you can unlock, but it seems entirely usable without paying an extra.
Picture this: in the AppStore (so even if you don’t download the app), you can see a screenshot that tells you about a natural event. It occurs in a tiny spot in a nature reserve and at a very specific time.
Now, all that have seen it can organise and go there at the same time. A flock of buses filled with hordes of irresponsible tourists can now drive to this place simultaneously. They deposit the masses of people whose only interest is to take the exact same photo, and in less than 1 hour, all travel back. These people might step where they shouldn’t, disturb animals not used to hundreds of screaming bipeds, leave plastic or else behind, etc.
I’m not generalising: I have seen this happen. And more than once.
I have seen tourists take selfies in front of Auschwitz or Mandela’s prison. Tourists pat penguins in South Africa despite the sign at arm’s length explicitly telling them not to. Animals trapped in plastic left on Georgian trails… And look at what happened in Thailand. An entire ecosystem is destroyed, perhaps with no chance of restoration (according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it can take up to 10,000 years for a coral reef to form from a group of larvae).
Ease of access
Now, is this information not accessible otherwise? Or course it is, but there are things we should not aim to make so accessible in this world.
It’s all good that the internet gave us immediate access to bags of information, connections, etc. But Earth survived million of years without that. While for our actions in the last few decades, we are now all talking about the risks of climate change, preserving the planet for future generations etc, etc.
And our actions as travellers have as big an impact as pollution from industries. So ease of access to information can be an absolute blessing, but in some cases, we may need to rethink it.
When I travel and post photos on Instagram, I tag the location, so I share information too. I travel a lot (this blog started before I went full circle around the world), which makes me feel guilty for the pollution I cause. But if I’m in a place that needs preserving, I either don’t post at all or provide only very generic information.
I believe it helps keep tourism “slow”, as people need at least to make an effort to find the location.
Even in Design, when we talk about User Experience, we understand that some interactions need friction. That frictionless and easy is not necessarily always the best outcome.
And so, to experience the planet for many more years to come, we need to set boundaries. Maybe some places need to be left unreachable, or maybe we need to simply limit access to a sustainable amount.
And is this only related to Nature? How about cities?
I’m glad you asked.
There is a global sentiment against tourists in several cities around the world. One of the reasons is that now house owners prefer to invest in having Airbnb guests in their houses rather than renters. They make more money and have fewer restrictions or laws to abide by. This has skyrocketed rents and pushed citizens out of their own cities.
It might not have as direct visible impact as recommending visiting a city’s beautiful locations. But ease of access to the rest of the world has made life harder for people already living there.
Even when more tourism could benefit some countries’ economies, it’s the people who live there who are paying the price.
Instagram (well, all social media)
I believe you can see my point now. This is all I have to say about the app for now. But of course, I need to have a few words about the so-called influencers as well.
There is a lot that people do for mere vanity without really even thinking about the consequences. In the reach for popularity, the social currency of this era, people forget their responsibilities. Maybe even be as superficial as saying that whatever happens on Instagram stays on Instagram. But this is not the case.
Instagram “influencers” have a reach far beyond the 2 seconds it takes to look at and like their post. And the more followers they have, the bigger the responsibility.
To cause all the problems I mentioned only to be featured and have their names seen on an app is very irresponsible.
They’ll add some extra followers to their profile. And kill the planet for that.
/ end of rant