The "selfie log."
May 31, 2019 1:42 PM   Subscribe

How Selfie Culture Ruins the Great Outdoors for Everyone Else: Social media has made natural spaces more popular. It could also destroy them.
The commotion at Joffre is not an isolated phenomenon. Last summer, chaos broke out at a farm an hour’s drive southwest of Toronto after images taken by visitors in a field of sunflowers went viral on Instagram. The owners—who had been charging a fee to visit the field and expecting the typical hundred-or-so visitors—were overwhelmed by several thousand unexpected customers on a single day. Police were called to shut the operation down after impatient sightseers trespassed onto farm property and cars crashed on the nearby highway. In Thailand, last fall, authorities indefinitely closed Maya Bay—the picturesque cove featured in the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach—after discovering that tourists had destroyed an estimated 80 percent of its coral reef, which was damaged by boat anchors, trampling visitors, and nonbiodegradable sunscreen. And, in Iceland, many environmentalists say a massive influx of social-media-fuelled travellers is threatening fragile ecosystems: the hordes of tourists are flattening delicate beds of moss.
'Driver anarchy and mass crowds': Why Joffre Lakes remains a grey area for traffic enforcement
posted by mandolin conspiracy (37 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Earlier this spring I took a quick side excursion into the Lauterbrunnen area.

...whereupon I was genuinely surprised (I'm quite naive, apparently) by the HORDES of tourists who wanted to stand on top of one particular tree stump and get their picture taken while striking one of three poses (Japanese-style V hands at the face, "demure movie starlet sideways pose" or flexing biceps with arms over head in a sort of "strongman" pose).

Dozens and dozens of people would pile off the local train, or postbus, tromp up to this specific tree stump, get their picture taken, and then leave. Easily two three dozen people every hour, no specific ethnic focus to the tourists, and no apparent business/guide taking them to that spot. At one point I counted thirty people waiting to get their picture.

No real damage, since the tree was already gone, but there was no particular reason to pick that one damn stump. It's Lauterbrunnen! There are views in every possible direction! It's not even the most appealing tree stump!
posted by aramaic at 2:09 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]


Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
posted by kozad at 2:21 PM on May 31 [13 favorites]


I thought it was the big corporations of global capitalism ruining the Great Outdoors. Glad we‘re democratizing this task somewhat now that there‘s only a couple patches of greenery left.
posted by The Toad at 2:22 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


also if all those giant tourists keep pushing on the Tower of Pisa it's going to fall over one of these days. does anybody do anything about it? does the Italian government care? why does Instagram keep censoring my attempts to call these people out? follow the money, folks
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:24 PM on May 31 [30 favorites]


Five counterpoints: Five reasons to keep geotagging

I worry a lot more about extractive industry, ranching, and climate change destroying the natural places I love to visit.
posted by hackwolf at 2:26 PM on May 31 [30 favorites]


"[Outdoors] is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to [outdoors].”

Which is to say that the while the selfie crowd does descend on individual parks like a particularly trendy locust swarm, it is hardly an existential threat to the outdoors or even the park system as a whole.

Also, given their collective attention span I expect this will last about as long as planking did.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:47 PM on May 31 [8 favorites]


Two weeks in Yellowstone coming up in, let’s see, 7 days and counting. I’ll let y’all know how it looks in the mother of all National Parks*. My recollection of tourists there was best summed up by the mantra “get past the parking lot and after 50 feet or so in a non pavement direction it will be all right” which is born out by the statistics that the vast majority of folks aren’t day hiking or doing overnighters.

*Yes, yes I know that is a bit of hyperbole but it will always be a special place to me after two summers of working there and it has kind of ruined other parks for me just because of the raw number of things and volume of the same it has to offer.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:54 PM on May 31 [8 favorites]


My 11 year old son and me are generally live-and-let-live, chill kind of people out of fucks to give about what other people spend their life doing.
Except
Last weekend, at the big Bahai temple in the Santiago foothills, the gaggle of giggling groups posing, two at a time, making a 'heart' shape with their arms, framing the temple.
signal jr. says I become a curmudgeon about this sort of thing, and by golly, I do.
posted by signal at 3:12 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


Remember the hordes taking pictures of America's most photographed barn in Don DeLillo's White Noise? That's how I feel about every selfie spot.
posted by morspin at 3:14 PM on May 31 [7 favorites]


People like experiencing the planet we've been fine-tuned to take pleasure in for millions of years. Asking or expecting people to just not do something they're programmed to do using technology we built to do that thing probably isn't going to get very far. A better solution would be a wider variety of places to visit and I guess more preparation and better crowd management.

We also had a similar post about how people are making too many rock piles in natural areas and I don't know what to do about that.

Just don't let Thanos hear about any of this, he'll love it.
posted by bleep at 3:23 PM on May 31 [7 favorites]


Then there’s the canyon in Iceland that, thanks to Game of Thrones and Justin Bieber, got so popular it had to be closed. The flora and fauna need time to regrow. And oof, though it’s not really a selfie culture thing, Everest... don’t get me started.

In the end it’s all selfish, thoughtless consumption and commodification of nature, isn’t it. We use it to make ourselves look good, trash it, and move on to hoover up the next thing that won’t survive our vanity.
posted by angeline at 3:33 PM on May 31 [8 favorites]


It's funny you mention it, I did come up with an idea recently...
posted by Thanos at 3:33 PM on May 31 [14 favorites]


also if all those giant tourists keep pushing on the Tower of Pisa it's going to fall over one of these days

i LOVE and CHERISH all the wide view photos of the dozens of idiot tourists all doing it at once from multiple angles and distances, blissfully uncaring of how dopey they look
posted by poffin boffin at 3:38 PM on May 31 [12 favorites]


I was at Yellowstone last year. You're going to see a lot of overdone Instagram thirst traps take their pictures in front of pretty things and otherwise give no fucks about where they are or what they're looking at.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 3:39 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


This is great! All the tourists are going to the same 10 places, leaving the rest of the outdoors for me. I went camping on some BLM / National Forest land over Memorial Day weekend and basically had the place to myself.
posted by ryanrs at 3:51 PM on May 31 [11 favorites]


also if all those giant tourists keep pushing on the Tower of Pisa it's going to fall over one of these days

Don’t you even look at the photos? They’re the only thing holding it up!
posted by No-sword at 4:09 PM on May 31 [10 favorites]


Related (?): Tourists Are Causing Headaches In Japan (Kotaku), which notes that many hotspots in Japan are beyond capacity, and more in line with the OP, As Tourism Booms, Amsterdam Shifts to Damage Control (Citylab via MSN.com)
Earlier this month, a report from the Netherlands Tourist Board announced a remarkable policy change: Acknowledging that “more is not always better,” (The Epoch Times) the board will no longer actively promote its country (Forbes) as a tourist destination. Instead, straining under the pressure of a booming tourism scene, the board will focus on redistributing the visitors it already has, operating as a sort of tourism damage control for popular vacation hotspots.
Yet apparently Amsterdam is saying "what the hell, let's go crazy with tourists!" and Amsterdam tourists can marry a local for a day, go on a date while weeding or pluck and eat a city pigeon in a new initiative designed to combat the negative effects of overtourism (Yahoo News). Weeding a park, or eating a pigeon would be a net positive (though that last bit makes this all sound like a Yes Men style prank), but I'm not sure how "marrying" a local for a day will help "combat the negative effects of overtourism," unless Dutch marriage ceremonies involve public improvements.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:26 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]


In a world of stupid moral panics, this one is particularly dumb.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:30 PM on May 31 [12 favorites]


What really bugs me is the hikers and mountain bikers who go around muddy bits of trail. If you won't walk through, then turn around. Trail erosion takes a very small number of footsteps. And this isn't restricted to tourists.
posted by muddgirl at 5:05 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


What I like to do is, I go on the hike, and take the selfies and pictures of my hiking buddies, like I normally would. Then I post the best one or two to instagram, with an appropriate hashtag or two. Then I look at all the pictures of that same hashtag, notice how similar they all are. In some cases, they are identical, with identical poses from the people in them, and identical lighting, despite being taken by people who have never met, often years apart.

Finally, I contemplate the humanity that unites us all, and also, of course, copyright and the creation of original images.
posted by surlyben at 5:45 PM on May 31 [15 favorites]


I think that building up infrastructure to support large crowds at popular destinations (Grand Canyon, etc.) is the right thing to do - give the crowds a place to go that supports them well enough that they don't spread out and overwhelm areas that can't handle an unexpected influx of people (Kanarra Falls, which now requires hiking permits)
posted by seiryuu at 6:27 PM on May 31 [7 favorites]


there was no particular reason to pick that one damn stump. It's Lauterbrunnen! There are views in every possible direction! It's not even the most appealing tree stump!

Tourist places are sometimes like this. Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia is a lovely tiny village just outside of Halifax and whose best-known feature is the bafflingly iconic Peggy’s Point Lighthouse. Every year tourists in their tens of thousands descend on the the village and take pictures of the lighthouse. They then post picturesque of the lighthouse on social media (in the old days they just showed the photos to friends one or two at a time) and other tourists arrive, spot the lighthouse, and photograph it, perpetuating the cycle. It is the tourism equivalent of perpetual motion.

I have lived in Nova Scotia (and indeed worked in the travel business there), there are twenty or fifty equally picturesque villages along the south shore, but Peggy’s Cove is the place 98% of tourists ask about visiting.

Somewhere in the past I know that someone must have photographed that blesséd lighthouse, and then subsequently showed the photo to a friend who later visited and decided to photograph the lighthouse as well. No idea who these two were, but that photo was the first pebble of an avalanche that has been going for decades now.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:42 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


What really bugs me is the hikers and mountain bikers who go around muddy bits of trail. If you won't walk through, then turn around. Trail erosion takes a very small number of footsteps. And this isn't restricted to tourists.
posted by muddgirl at 5:05 PM on May 31


Eponysterical? But seriously, walking or riding around the mud patch serves to broaden the trail and exacerbate the problem. The most sustainable solution is to find an alternative route in higher terrain with better drainage potential. This is a good, if a bit dated, primer on sustainable trail techniques.
posted by St. Oops at 10:34 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


Before social media, there was a spot at the top of Nob Hill, on the corner of Mason and Sacramento, where tourist buses would come and stop. Everyone would then religiously stand at that corner and get their photo taken. Is it still popular on Instagram nowadays?
posted by hugbucket at 1:00 AM on June 1


I thought it was the big corporations of global capitalism ruining the Great Outdoors.

It is the big corporations of global capitalism. The tourism industry is huge. Tour packagers, airlines, hotels, Airbnb, car rentals, all profit from overtourism. They don't care if tourists fuck a place up (and neither do a lot of tourists) as long as the tourists are spending money.
posted by pracowity at 2:09 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


mumble...grumble..why don't they just take their damn selfies in the bathroom??
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:47 AM on June 1


Speaking of Yellowstone, Jesus Christ people. So leaving the boardwalks in the front country is generally a very bad idea, certainly don’t walk on thermal features, absolutely don’t take a stroll on Grand Prismatic.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:14 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Despite it being a holiday weekend, there were only two park rangers on hand during my visit to Joffre last summer. Visitors clogged the trail and queued up with their phones and cameras. For some, it was likely their first time in a pristine alpine environment after years of living in the Lower Mainland. Overwhelmed by the crowds, the two rangers spent much of the day rushing to offer crash courses in environmental stewardship: stay on the trail, don’t feed wildlife, don’t litter. At one point, a ranger vaulted over the ridge at the farthest lake and assisted the woman in the pink shirt who had fallen off the rock: she had cut her foot in the fall. A friend piggybacked her to the parking lot as the ranger led the way.
I worked a summer as a ranger in a private nature preserve in the NC mountains in the late 1990s. This is exactly what I did all day for three months. We spent a lot of time telling people not to feed the wildlife, not to pick the flowers, and not to carve their names on things. We always had a pack full of spare water bottles for people who had forgotten theirs. We did sweeps on the backs of mountains for people who had gone off trail and now were headed in the opposite direction from their cars. We dealt with overly eroded trails and illegal fires. The only difference is that the cameras had film in them and usually the pictures at iconic spots were not selfies but group pictures taken by someone else not from the group (often me). This is how many humans enjoy nature.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:24 AM on June 1 [4 favorites]


The author is kind of lumping together two things here-- I feel like there's a huge difference between "the outdoors" as a whole and the specific spots that have become popular on IG.

I mean, no one is hiking into the backcountry purely to get a selfie. They're there because they want to be there (and sure, maybe they'll take a selfie while they do it). If they need to build outdoor skills in order to hike or camp or whatever safely and in a way that is low-impact, then the solution is education, not gatekeeping and moral panic about selfies.

Sure, there are some spots that are overwhelmed with people because they're picturesque and easily accessed. I usually don't go to those places and if I do I deal with the crowds because I understand that the outdoors belongs to us all and many people don't have the ability/equipment to access more remote areas (and quite frankly we shouldn't be encouraging them to before they're ready because that's how you end up need to send out search and rescue).
posted by geegollygosh at 7:50 AM on June 1 [5 favorites]


I worked on a trail last summer to a lake which had achieved some notoriety due to a viral video, and had experienced a tripling of visitor numbers in a year. The poor existing trail infrastructure couldn't handle the visitor numbers and led to erosion, which made for a worse visitor experience. Social media fame doesn't have to be a bad thing though: concentrating visitors to particular sites and zones can serve to reduce impact in other areas. It does require planning and investment, however, which outdoor areas and their managers too often seem unfit to address. Build proper sustainable trails, provide services for visitors, employ rangers and guides.

Ultimately though you will always have places like Yosemite which can only accommodate so many visitors. This is a challenge faced by all kinds of tourist destinations: Cinque Terre, Machu Pichu, Mont Ste Michelle, etc. I don't want to think that markets provide the only solution though: there are advanced booking systems and lotteries that may alleviate stress on sensitive areas.

This season's Everest shitshow needs to be a lesson to us all about outdoor recreation management.
posted by St. Oops at 7:54 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]


hackwolf that article was very interesting, I don't think I would have ever clued in that the new outdoorsy types being blamed might be code for PoC.

But I'm far less sold on a list of solutions that include

- Lean hard on public-private partnerships to provide flexibility where the federal or state government cannot. Consider “whole park concessions” whereby (Section 8a) private companies collect visitor fees, provide services and are responsible for park maintenance. It’s public land, privately operated and maintained with a percentage of revenue going back to the government.
...
- Work with brands to...
- Pay influencers to promote state and local parks!

posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:33 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


Aramaic your story is emblematic. If I had the opportunity to visit Lauterbrunnen, I'd want to explore, gawk, maybe do some hiking since there are probably walking trails I could manage. It looks gorgeous, breathtaking. Maybe there's a scavenger hunt or some specific reason, but I've done scavenger hunts, and if I'm someplace special, I'm going to take time to appreciate it.

If a national park becomes hella popular, accommodate it. Charge for parking, write tickets, whatever, and pay for more and better signage and rangers. I'd want a picture of myself on that log, it's a great spot. But people need to be taught the importance of not using parks as toilets; caring for the fragility of the wild. Make more national parks; they are a national treasure.

Nor sure if this is the right place for this bit of outragefilter: North Face pulled a clever genuinely fucked-up marketing stunt exploiting wikipedia and selfie/outdoor culture. I'm not usually leading the charge on boycotting, but I'd rather not buy from assholes.
posted by theora55 at 9:51 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


I was in Acadia National Park in far northeast Maine last weekend, with a group of Scouts and families. It was craaaazy crowded, and also one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. looking back through my pictures, I find other people in every single one of them -- and I probably appear in the snapshots of hundreds of strangers.

We camped out in tents, crowded into group sites at an official campground called Seawall Campground. The facilities -- parking, tent spots, bathrooms, roads -- were simple yet high-quality, and staying there kept us from making fresh sites elsewhere. Each day we drove full cars to hikes & attractions around the park to hike and sight-see and study the exhibits. We made sure to keep the Scouts on the trails, walking on rocks or splashing through mud (instead of walking into the woods to avoid a little wet). We carried out any garbage, and brought water so we weren't buying those damn disposable bottles. We did our best to be respectful and patient and grateful and mindful, and made it clear to the kids that they were in a special place, and to value the experience.

Yet I can't help feel that we -- in the company of many thousands of other tourists each day -- were still putting a great stress on the land, and I felt really conflicted about even being there.

That said, Acadia is fantastically gorgeous, and it ranks up there for me with Ireland, Swizerland, and Lake Superior & the Boundary Waters Canoe Area as the most beautiful places I've had the good luck to visit. I would return in a heartbeat to spend quiet time there.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:46 PM on June 1


I think part of what is happening is that global population has doubled in the last 40 years, while the area of seemingly-untouched accessible "great outdoors" has been shrinking, so if you're even approaching middle-age then the density of Other People (who are likewise just trying to enjoy themselves same as you) is now very different from the formative experiences that defined what you think "the great outdoors" means and should mean. I know the density of people outdoors is unrecognizable to me now, but I don't think selfies caused that.

I'm also suspicious of people demeaning and dismissing other people's hobbies and interests, and I'm double suspicious when those hobbies being belittled are things stereotypically enjoyed by girls and young women. When I look at the pastimes popular with young women vs what pastimes attract scorn, it seems like commentary is less about merit and more that anything that young women happen to like de jour will be belittled. Screw that noise.
posted by anonymisc at 12:00 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


I think part of what is happening is that global population has doubled in the last 40 years, while the area of seemingly-untouched accessible "great outdoors" has been shrinking, so if you're even approaching middle-age then the density of Other People (who are likewise just trying to enjoy themselves same as you) is now very different from the formative experiences that defined what you think "the great outdoors" means and should mean. I know the density of people outdoors is unrecognizable to me now, but I don't think selfies caused that.

That's a great point, Anonymisc. The world's population has grown incredibly in barely more than a generation, and even mundane experiences like visiting a tourist spot have been warped and affected in ways we never might have anticipated.

And Ricochet Biscuit's comment reminded me of my own visit to Peggy's Cove fifteen years ago, where I was less affected by the picturesque scenery and architecture than by the sneering expressions of the local fisherman who were trying to go about their day while us tourists went about our nattering way taking pictures and climbing the rocks near the shore despite the warning signs that stated point-blank that there was a danger present. No matter how much I might contribute to a local economy with my visit, I can not go on a vacation these days without feeling at least a little parasitic, visiting some stranger's home town and getting in their way. I need only recall that one photo I tried to take of those houses in Peggy's Cove and I purposefully (and stupidly) aimed my camera to include some fishermen doing their work: their disdainful glare at me in that picture is something that will haunt me to the end of my days.
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 6:54 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


I greatly enjoyed a daytrip to Lauterbrunnen a few years ago and I'm very disappointed to learn that I missed out on an epic tree stump. I suppose I have no choice now, I'll have to return someday to see it.
posted by randomnity at 9:00 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Of course some of these problems may solve themselves.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:13 PM on June 8


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