If a holiday goes undocumented on social media, did it really happen?

So ingrained is the practice of recording our every move, it seems unthinkable that anyone could travel without it ending up cropped, filtered, and splashed across Instagram and Facebook.

I’ll spare you a tired reheating of the social-media-connects-us-but-also-isolates-us discussion from every undergraduate humanities essay. But along with rampant narcissism, social media has fostered a troublesome habit of passive competition. My gelato is more decadent than your gelato. My boy/girlfriend is more thoughtful than yours. I went to this festival/football match/underground vegan food market… Behold how goddamn well rounded I am.

Which is all fine, I guess. Sort of. If you don’t think about it too much. But when it comes to the world of travel, are we too preoccupied with broadcasting our experiences rather than actually having them? Travel is supposed to be an escape from our everyday habits. A time to see and feel things that our normal schedules don’t allow.

It can be a good motivator, for sure. Seeing that everyone else is out there, seemingly living the life, we’re spurred on to get a piece of the action. We may explore wondrous, distant places we would’ve never thought of if it wasn’t for the jealousy incited by a friend’s photo album. But is it the reality and experience we’re chasing, or just the photo op?

We can see the absurdity of it at live concerts. People recording shows through phones with significantly lower quality than their own eyes and ears. We are never going to watch this footage, so why place a barrier between an experience and our own senses? It’s a point well articulated by comedian Louis CK.

It seems a dangerous trend of one-upmanship and filtering our own reality. The compulsion to instantly validate our existence is so strong that we willingly compromise our live enjoyment of things just to prove that we did them.

A friend visiting Europe was in town recently and was strategically timing her posts (like, actually setting a reminder at impractical hours) to gain maximum traction back home in Australia. Why does it matter who likes our holiday besides us? Apparently, maintaining brand awareness is now seen as a responsibility for all of us as individuals.

I met an old German man this week when I asked him about the Wi-Fi code in a café. He looked confused.

“You know, Wi-Fi… internet,” I said.

“Internet? Sorry, I don’t know that.” I nodded politely and started back towards my seat, but he continued. “I know InterRail. I know interaction,” he said, pointing back and forth at the space between us. “But I don’t know what is internet.”

Okay, so it sounds cheesy in the retelling. But I found it charming.

Next time you travel, I challenge you to keep your phone holstered and really experience things. Hear, see and smell your surroundings. No one else cares what your food looks like. Eat it while it’s hot. Pay full attention to your conversations. In moments of solitude, allow your thoughts to creep in unimpeded. Don’t you dare start brainstorming captions and hashtags. Be in the room.

And don’t mind that strange new sensation. They’re just feelings you’re having.

This article originally appeared on Live4.

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