Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Tyranny of Other People’s Vacation Photos

[ed. I'm not on social media (having been subjected to the 'Facebook experience' for a few months and quickly terminating my account) so I can't tell if articles like this accurately reflect our culture or not. Even our grandparents were guilty of holding family and friends hostage to vacation films and photos. See also: For Teenage Girls, Swimsuit Season Never Ends.]

Chief among my favorite Facebook memories is the time that a high-powered journalist of my acquaintance breezily informed us all that he was at the Grill Room of the Four Seasons with Ted Danson, tucking into some sea urchin. To which one friend responded, “That’s funny, because I’m at the Midtown tunnel with Rhea Perlman, eating shawarma.”

While some frequent users of social media are merely fabulous, others savvily buff their fabulousness to a dazzling gleam, becoming fahvolous. At no point in the year is this more evident than in August and early September, when Facebook and Instagram swell with the plump, juicy, sun-ripened harvest of summer: vacation photos.

What prompts the excessive posting of these pictures?

William Haynes, a 22-year-old comedian who hosts the SourceFed show “People Be Like,” said: “I like how my generation is all about sharing. What’s the point of having a vacation unless you can tell people about it immediately? If you can get a few Instagram photos out of it, you’ve made your money back.”

Indeed, the motivation behind many fahvolous vacation photos would seem to be a rationalization of large expenditures for the purpose of recreation: a $6,000 beach rental ought to bring you $6,000 worth of pleasure, and maybe posting a photo will get the dopamine flowing.

But one can detect other motives, too: a tone-deaf attempt at self-branding, a neurotic attempt to thank your host, a need for constant scrutiny.

Noxious selfie sticks now seem like nothing compared to the sophisticated camera filters that can turn an average-looking strawberry patch into a brooding welter of Caravaggio-esque chiaroscuro.

Some people even hire professional photographers to take their vacation snaps for them. In the future, it may be unsurprising at a lakeside picnic to hear a camera-wielding nephew turn to his Aunt Marjorie and ask: “What’s your day rate?”

Equally jarring, some Instagram and Facebook users seem to want us to know that their summer is more inherently summery than ours: more barefoot, more glistening, more sarong-driven.

These folks are biting into the fresh fig of life, and this biting produces carefree laughter. My natural habitat is an oceanside bonfire where a Viggo Mortensen look-alike strums a weathered guitar! All backyards are enlivened by a spray of 8-year-old girls in sundresses! Everything I eat in August is cooked on a stick!

While it’s fairly easy to categorize the photographically incontinent under the headlines Narcissistic and Insecure, or some combination thereof, the photo-posting folks may not have the same clarity about themselves. “People often don’t know that they’re the culprit,” said Marla Vannucci, a clinical psychologist who is an associate professor at Adler University.

“I have a client who really wants Likes, so he posts a lot of photos,” Dr. Vannucci said. “When people don’t respond to them, he feels very alone. So he posts more. It’s a cycle like any interpersonal cycle in which we’re doing something that people hate but we’re doing it to try to make people like us. With that type of client, I try to find out what the motivation for posting is: What are the feelings around it? What is he looking for? Then I try to help him find other outlets.”

For those on the receiving end of such founts of images, the critical factors are frequency and tone. On the frequency front, young Mr. Haynes had a good suggestion: “I think you get three photos per location.” If you can’t remember whether you already posted a picture of that covered bridge, you are in danger of overestimating other people’s interest in covered bridges.

The question of tone is more nuanced. In 2014, the software company CyberLink sponsored a poll of 2,268 adults in the United States, “with the hypothesis,” the company’s senior vice president for global marketing, Richard Carriere, told me, “that some people have a tendency to post photos on social media just to gloat and annoy their friends and colleagues.”

The study found that one in seven who own a smartphone and who use social media would unfollow or block someone who posts what they perceive as boastful vacation pictures. Moreover, one in four will attempt to share a photo within one hour of arriving at their destination — which makes many of us want to summon from deep within us the turban-wearing drama teacher who gets two syllables out of “Breeeeathe.”

The top reasons that those sampled said they would Like or Favorite a picture were: if it showed friends and family sharing a special moment (63 percent), they look happy (58 percent) or they look genuine and natural (48 percent). I expressed surprise to Mr. Carriere that the poll didn’t break down the specifics of bothersome photos.

I said, “I’m going to guess that the most troublesome one would be a vacation photo in which your ex is dating someone who’s essentially you, but 15 years younger, and it’s a picture of the two of them in the tiny fishing village in Portugal that you turned your ex on to in the first place.”

Mr. Carriere said, “I would definitely unfriend my ex for that.”

by Henry Alford, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Molly Walsh