Friday, 15 May 2015

The Amazing Race 26, Episode 11

Trujillo (Peru) - DFW Airport, TX (USA) - Arlington, TX (USA) - Dallas, TX (USA)

One of the unrealities of The Amazing Race as a "reality" television show is that members of the cast have been forbidden to have cameras, phones, or most other electronic devices. I'm old enough to have made my first trip around the world with a film camera (okay, it had battery-powered zoom and autofocus) and nothing else electrical in my luggage beyond a flashlight and a cheap digital watch. But today, travellers take smartphones and other electronic travel gadgets for granted (although, given international roaming fees, they probably shouldn't).

This season, each of the participants in The Amazing Race 26 was provided with a device that looked like a smartphone, although it appeared to have been crippled to function only as a camera and to have neither phone, GPS, nor Internet capabilities.

Throughout this season of the race around the world, the teams were shown taking selfies. It wasn't clear whether they were merely taking the opportunity to document their own journeys (in spite of each pair of racers being accompanied by a professional videographer and sound technician) or whether the selfies were being taken on the orders of the TV producers, perhaps to be used as product-placement advertisements for one of the sponsors of the show.

Viewers didn't find out what was up until this last episode of the season. The decisive final challenge for the remaining teams in the race was to arrange each of their selfies from the month-long trip around the world in the order in which they had taken them.

At least the racers were only given cameras, and told to take handheld selfies, rather than also being provided with selfie sticks. Whatever one thinks of handheld selfies, they are by nature self-directed and have limited effect on other people nearby. Selfie sticks are much more problematic. Selfie sticks are increasingly being banned in museums and at concerts, where they interfere with other people's views. In crowds, they can be quite dangerous.

My current peeve is the people who try to ride a rented bicycle one-handed across the Golden Gate Bridge while using their other hand to wave a camera around on the end of a selfie stick.

Don't get me wrong: Riding over the bridge to Sausalito, and returning by ferry, is a great excursion. I'm glad that thousands of people a day have discovered this and are making it part of their visits to San Francisco. Those wielding selfie sticks probably mean no harm, and don't realize the hazard they pose to themselves and others.

The bridge sidepaths are narrow for heavy two-way traffic, and even skilled riders need to keep both hands on the handlebars (and the brakes, in traffic) and pay full attention to holding their line. The crosswinds are often strong and gusty. As the sidewalks round the bases of the towers, eddies of wind turbulence coincide with sharp blind turns. I've been riding over the bridge regularly for 30 years, and know what to expect, but the only places I've ever been blown off any of my bikes by wind gusts are on the Golden Gate Bridge and its approaches. An out-of-control selfie stick with a camera on the end makes a dangerous flail. When I encounter fools like this weaving around on the bridge sidepath while waving selfie sticks, I'm tempted to snatch their sticks away and throw them and their cameras over the railing into the bay.

The next step is the flying photographic drone. These aren't yet quite small, light, and cheap enough to have become an expected part of any traveller's equipage the way a camera is. But drones are making aerial photography (even in places like over the Golden Gate Bridge where a drone crash could precipitate a serious car crash) accessible and affordable to a rapidly growing spectrum of amateur photographers. Flying camera drones are already no larger, heavier, or more costly than the first video camcorders carried by amateur travellers in the early 1980s. The first commercial use of flying drones has been in wedding photography, but I expect that professional travel bloggers won't be far behind in packing drones in their luggage. How long will it be before flying drones are no longer an object of curiosity, or before vacation photos are expected to include aerial video selfies?

The racers' task of sorting their selfies in order by where they were taken wasn't easy. The focus of a selfie is, by definition, on one's self, leaving only peripheral clues as to its context. How much does your appearance really vary depending on where you are?

It's tempting to dismiss selfies as inherently narcissistic, and/or as exemplifying the trophy-hunting style of travel: "Been there, done that, got the selfie to prove it. Time to move on."

There's another way to look at selfies, however, as exemplifying a focus on the internal journey that is often the most important aspect of travel. Travel is often a personal growth experience, and self-transformation is often the most important part of our journey. Not every traveler intends or is conscious of how travel is changing them. Many a traveller realizes that they have become a different person only after they return home, as part of "reverse culture shock" or "reentry shock".

From this perspective, the selfie is the visual counterpart of the travel diary or journal: an attempt to document and preserve a record of the internal journey of the traveller. This makes sense: When you show someone your travel photographs, do you tell them about what you saw, or do you try to explain how it made you feel?

But that still leaves the same question as is posed by any travel photography: Do our photographs enhance our ability to remember, or does what we photograph displace or overshadow our other memories?

Will we come to rely on our personal archive of selfies (and will we preserve it?) to remember which trips to which places we enjoyed, and which we didn't?

And are selfies and self-image a substitute for, or a supplement to, introspection and self-awareness?

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 15 May 2015, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

The race itself has started to use drones for some of its aerial photography in the later seasons. But it seems as if they still use quite a lot of helicopters as well.

Posted by: Martin, 22 May 2015, 02:04 ( 2:04 AM)
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