One of my most vivid memories from all of my years of traveling is from the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. During our safari in the crater, we watched a wildebeest give birth. We saw the calf lying on the ground, still connected to its mother by the umbilical cord. Then, as the mother was passing the placenta, we watched in wonder as the baby calf got to its feet. It stumbled several times, falling into the dirt, but finally found its footing and took its very first steps. We were literally watching the beginning of the circle of life, and everyone in the truck was speechless. Nobody else in the entire world would ever see exactly what we just saw, nobody would ever see that baby wildebeest and know how it struggled to stand up for the first time, how it tripped over its scrawny little legs as it took its very first steps. It almost felt like an honor bestowed on us by mother nature.
When I got home from Africa, this was the first story I told everyone who asked about my trip. But when I finally went through my photos, I realized I only had one slightly out of focus picture of the birth. The most significant event of the trip and I didn’t even have pictures? At first I was mad at myself for the oversight.
Then, I realized why this event is so vivid and powerful, months later-because I actually experienced it first hand rather than through a 2×2 LCD screen on the back of my camera.
These days, we’re compelled to Tweet, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook our way around the globe. If a person goes on a trip and doesn’t post to social media did the trip really happen? Along with the news of selfie-related injuries and deaths, and the destruction of ancient artifacts, sacrificed in the name of getting the best selfie, can we finally admit to ourselves that it’s time to stop taking so many pictures? Why does it feel like so many people are allowing others online to be more immersed in their trip than they are?
I love taking pictures. I usually get home from a trip with thousands of photos. Looking at a slideshow of them can almost make me feel like I am on the trip all over again. I love having them to look at when I am feeling down, to remember a certain place and time that touched my soul and made me feel alive. But I also realize that the more pictures I take, the less I am living in the moment. Each snap of the shutter is a second I could have been immersed in the moment, rather than capturing it for future use. And when you think about it, that feels kind of sad.
From one traveler to many others, I beg you-please stop taking so many photos. Please put your camera down and just be. Notice the vivid colors of the landscape you’re looking at, the textures and patterns in the clouds above, the way the sun and wind feel against your skin, the interactions between the people or animals nearby. Your Instagram feed may be more sparse by doing this, but your mind and soul will be much richer.