Just recently I’ve stopped geotagging locations on Instagram. Why?
Undeniably beautiful places encourage us all to reach for the camera and share our images; it’s understandable. But these places are becoming more heavily visited and it is having an impact.
Early one morning I headed for a coastal spot well known for its other-worldly qualities and stunning sunrises. I wanted to spend some time brushing up on my photography skills and was eager to capture the day’s first light.
I was in for a bit of a shock: even at 7am there was a bunch of people there with phones, cameras and even drones. It was anything but quiet: the buzzing of the drones set my teeth on edge and the path was badly eroded.
I found the whole experience irritating but not surprising. Technology is revolutionising the way we engage with each other: we’re constantly sharing what we are doing, where we are and what things look like from on the ground, up above and close-up.
But there is a cost and I fear it will be most keenly felt in the world around us as we all seek out that picture-perfect place.
Last year, I was sat at the Valley of Rocks in North Devon. It’s a place full of ridiculously vertiginous cliff paths and rocky outcrops with finger-like crags. On one side is a deep dry valley and, on the other, the Bristol Channel crashes over menacing looking rocks.
It’s insanely beautiful. You can sit and stare and stare.
So there I was, gawping in the usual way when I observed three people pose for photos. I’m not joking; they posed, looked at their phones and walked away with barely even a glance around. It was bizarre and depressing. It’s like taking the photo was more important than the moment itself.
Increasingly, I have felt the need to reflect on this. I am there, taking photos and tagging away so am I not part of the problem?
These places, which you knew about from family or friends, are now known to the world. People will keep coming so we need to do more to protect and manage them, their fragile ecosystems and prevent them from becoming destinations purely for photo-tourism.
Some organisations have doing this already. In South Africa, Kruger National Park asked people to turn off the geo-tag function to protect rhinos and in the US, Jackson Hole created a ‘tag responsibly’ campaign to protect the environment. The Outdoor Swimming Society took down its wild swim map to ‘slow down the transmission of information’ with Founder Kate Rew saying said there was a joy in finding your own swim spot.
From now on, I’m using generic tags ‘Devon’ or ‘Dartmoor’ rather than anything specific.
You might think geotagging doesn’t make a difference; that’s it’s not the real issue here. It’s the age-old debate: is the issue not about more visitors but an increase in issues such as littering, pollution and erosion? Anyway, some places actively encourage geotagging as part of their marketing strategy.
You’re not wrong. But for me this is about amplifying thoughtful messages around responsible conservation in the same way we take our rubbish home, leave no trace, have an incredible experience and ensure it remains that way for the generations to come.