Why I didn’t take any selfies on holiday

Our young blogger Charlotte gives her opinions on selfie culture.

This summer, I was lucky enough to have been invited to stay with my aunt, uncle and cousins in Los Angeles, USA. The trip, a sort of “well done for getting through school” prize, was wonderful; I was able to simply be a tourist for a while, clear my head of exam detritus and try to ignore the impending massiveness of university.

But what was by far the most relaxing thing about it was something I realised only towards the end of the holiday. For almost two weeks, I had not touched my phone, and I had shunned social media completely. The only photos I had taken during the holiday had been with my digital camera. My aunt, evidently noticing this, remarked: “You’re so different to US teenagers. We thought you’d be taking selfies all the time, not taking pictures of the scenery.”

I’d like to point out that I do enjoy letting other people take pictures of me next to famous landmarks, mainly so that I can say to people when I return: “Look! I know I said I’d been to the Hollywood Sign, and I know you believed me, but look! Here’s proof!” But I’ve always thought that there is a huge difference between standing humbly next to the landmark, deliberately making the scenery, statue, or building the object of the photograph... and a selfie: posing so that your face is the largest thing in the photograph, pulling a wide-eyed, “Wow!!!” face, as though you’ve added the Eiffel Tower in as an afterthought. There is something rather impolite about a medium in which the viewer has no option but to stare, nonplussed, at your face first, before glancing at whatever you’ve chosen as your backdrop.

I know I’m not the only one who thinks this. According to a survey by insurance company Aviva, 73% of people on social media are irritated by holiday snaps plastered all over profiles. The majority of social media seems united in the fact that it is an irritating waste of time. You can imagine, then, my curiosity when I found this article in the Independent by Fong Chau, who not only defends holiday selfies, but depicts critics of holiday selfies as fun-haters driven by “jealousy” and “bitterness”. Chau makes the point that “(On holidays) you’ve bought a new swimsuit, you’ve caught the sun, you look and feel your absolute best. I want to cherish this small moment of happiness and capture it for prosperity. I also want to share it with my loved ones and I want my friends to share their moments of bliss too.” She concludes the article with the challenge: “And if you truly can’t abide seeing other people’s joy, why don’t you know where the ‘unfollow’ button is?”

Fair enough— I am familiar with the unfollow button, and have used it many times. However, I think the former quote illustrates how out of touch we have become with the entire point of holidays. Before, when we went on holiday, we wanted to go away to switch off. We wanted to see somewhere new, experience another culture, and enjoy a slice of life cut off from the real world. In the article, Chau is describing the compulsion we now have to display everything; in short, we do nothing for the sake of doing it anymore. We do it in order to post about it afterwards. Holidays are no longer for ourselves; they are for our followers on social media. Chau’s first sentence in the Independent demonstrates my point perfectly: “As I stared out of the window of the aeroplane and looked at the sunlight bouncing off the wing, I reached for my phone and took a snap. That’s going to be great for Instagram later, I thought.” Staring at the ground thousands of feet below and wondering, awestruck, at the size and beauty of our planet, as I did on my first trip to the States this summer? Obviously not – unless, of course, to comment about it afterwards in an ‘insightful’ Facebook post.

Holiday selfies, then, seem to benefit nobody but the people who take them. Three-quarters of social media users claim to detest seeing them all over their feed. The true reasons for going on holiday have faded with the arrival of the Internet. To Fong Chau: I am not jealous, nor am I bitter. I simply believe that keeping oneself to oneself, and the ability to enjoy oneself without feeling the need to broadcast every last detail of one’s experience, are qualities which are in danger of being priced out by a few dozen ‘likes’ on Facebook.