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News flash: It's even better without Instagram

Ideas

News flash: It's even better without Instagram

Simon Parker loses his smartphone but rediscovers a wonderful world of travel outside of social media

Simon Parker

Within 16 months, 603 followers and 500 posts of first joining Instagram, I’d become everything I once ridiculed, giddily hashtagging words like #beautiful #wanderlust and #instatravel in a narcissistic haze.
“#epic #sunset here in #Mexico,” or something similar, read most of my posts in February. Carefully coded social media patter for “I’m in this hot and exotic place and you’re (probably) not. Isn’t my life just fabulous?”One month ago, however, I was served my well-overdue comeuppance when my smartphone left a Central American bar in someone else’s pocket and I was plunged, instantaneously, into social media cold turkey. Guatemala and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula lay ahead of me – smartphone-free for the first time in a decade. How would I show off my wonderful, carefully curated #instalife to a group of strangers and bots I’d never met?
My thoughts quickly drifted to the hypothetical tree falling in a forest making (or not making) a sound. Well, if I was to eat avocado on toast, witness an impressive sunset, or, heaven forbid, drink a flat white with an aesthetically pleasing milky leaf embossed upon it, and not post it on social media, would any of those things actually, really, happen?At first, there was an overwhelming feeling of grief – bereft of my hi-tech comfort blanket, however, within just 24 hours, muscle memory began miraculously returning to my hands and eyeballs. Amazingly they could be utilised for hundreds of other purposes, beyond aimlessly scrolling through silky photos and nonsensical #inspo. I’d time-travelled. To a simpler, less conceited era, circa 2007. The world around me was bright, tropical and vivacious – broadcast exclusively and in high definition down my pre-Instagram #nofilter optic nerves.   
I’d never considered myself much of a phone addict, but all of a sudden I’d freed up several extra hours a day to invest in simply looking at the real world with my own eyes – a world now utterly obsessed with and dependent upon smartphones. Sitting in the coffee shops of Antigua in Guatemala, surrounded by baroque archways and pastel hues, I now had ample time to self-righteously look down from my imaginary high horse as people on neighbouring tables arranged green juices between poached eggs and pairs of Ray-Ban Wayfarers. We’re the most intelligent life form on the planet, but technology has rendered us imbeciles.On one hand, smartphones have, of course, made travelling easier, safer and more communicative, but on the other, applications like Instagram, especially, have sucked all originality out of what should be a very personal experience. The very idea of hashtagging is, surely, an admission that nothing is remotely unique anymore. Ten years ago people name-dropped as a means of showing off. These days, however, we simply leave subtle hash and geo tags – place-dropping is all the rage. Moreover, who would want to use an original hashtag, anyway? No one would ever find it. And in our self-obsessed modern age what would be the point in that?I travel, a lot, and I can reveal, unsurprisingly, that the planet, very often, doesn’t look half as good as it’s portrayed on Instagram. We conveniently leave out all the pollution, poverty and degradation because it doesn’t fit in with our finely tweaked idea of #instaperfect. This is incredibly unhealthy, not only for our collective psyche, but for the wellbeing and future survival of our planet home. We should be pictorially documenting the problems we face, not glossing over them.
On Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, I checked into a hotel that looked incredible on screen, via its warm, saturated #instapics. In reality, Instagram’s flattering letterbox aspect ratio suited it perfectly – the half-built, derelict hotel next door aligned just out of shot in every single one of its posts. So-called “influencers” are at it, too – regularly portraying destinations in a meticulously composed style that is often way off the mark; skewing our shared perception of a place. Granted, I sound like a snob, but it’s a form of lowbrow “content” that’s so editorially unsound that it would seldom be tolerated elsewhere in the media. Social media, however, has for some crazy reason, become a law unto its own. I implore you to take every travel-related Instagram post you see, with not just a pinch, but a heaped tablespoon of salt.This unreal “reality” could even leave many people feeling extremely short-changed. The beaches of Mexico’s Playa Del Carmen and trendy Tulum are, for example, currently swamped in tons of smelly seaweed. Not that you’d tell that from Instagram, though, because hotels are working around the clock to rake out gaps in the sand where amateur photo shoots can take place. Over the course of just a day I witnessed more than a dozen bikini-clad wannabe influencers pretend to wade out to sea, but as soon as their doting friends or partners had taken the desired shots, they turned their disgusted backs on the water and retreated to the hotel pool.
This week I return home following 33 blissful days, smartphone-free, and I have every intention to make a beeline for an old “brick” of a cellphone. Or, I fear, I’ll simply dismount my high horse, order a green juice, and let the narcissistic haze wash over me once more.
– © The Daily Telegraph

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