How to Avoid the Influencer Trap


Over the past few months, I’ve become more and more interested in slow travel and staycations

The restrictions of the pandemic did little to restrict my wanderlust. Instead, I accepted them as a challenge to find adventure closer to home.

All it took was a change in attitude and a willingness to see my everyday world with new eyes – coupled with a good local guidebook – to start planning my local neighbourhood jaunts.

Any place I hadn’t been to, including restaurants, galleries, museums and parks, became unchartered territory and open to discovery. This is how I fell in love with poke and learned about Bari’s past and stumbled upon a farmer’s market while searching for something else. I also discovered workshops and art classes and free lectures I could attend.

We tend to take so much around us for granted, including the city in which we live. But when we take the initiative to intentionally seek out and explore the places around us, we give back to our community and this in itself has so many benefits.

Thriving communities depend on people being engaged in them.

When we consciously consume products made locally, we preserve traditions. When we transform parks on Saturdays mornings into hubs of socialisation, we ease feelings of isolation. The more we engage with the places and events open to us, the more we open ourselves to new connections, leading to new possibilities.

Moreover, a thriving community that is connected encourages its inhabitants to take risks that inspire growth. Our actions, including the way we travel, are part of this community-building process whether it’s in our immediate neighbourhood or one far, far away.

And yet travelling to form meaningful connections with the places we visit and the people we meet tend to be secondary in a world so heavily influenced by the instant likes of social media.

Long before the pandemic, Instagram and its influencers have been influencing the way we travel – both where we go and what we photograph.

Scrolling through images showing the same spots and the same angles, it’s clear that people are not only flocking to places for their instagrammability but also cropping them in ways that make them instagrammable and this is influencing not only the way we interact with a city and it’s people but also our perceptions of a city. Take for example ‘Paris Syndrome’, a severe form of culture shock that occurs when Paris fails to meet people’s hyped-up expectations of it.

So what are influencers really cropping out and for what reason? Because it is very easy to crop out authenticity when we were looking for likes to validate that we too have been to places that people with influence have been.

The thousands of phones in the air photographing the Mona Lisa sparks the question of whether we have lost the ability to engage with places authentically. Do we question what moves us to take the image or are we just taking it because we can? And why?

To be honest, I have muted feeds in which people document everything indiscriminately with the excuse of it being ‘their journal’.

Consuming the images in my social feed is the same as consuming any other content elsewhere. It feeds into my mood, my perception of the world and takes my time so for these reasons it needs to give back. I want content that inspires me to think differently, encourages me to grow, helps me see what I take for granted. I don’t want to see what you ate three times a day or a million pictures of you in different poses as you go through the routine of your day.

Saying this, there is a place for Instagram in our travels.

Instead of allowing our consumerist tendencies to take control of the shutter button, let’s put down our phones and think, What does my image give back to the community I’m photographing? Is there a story I can tell here that hasn’t been told before? What can my images add to the conversation ongoing in social media?

Instead of mimicking influencers who have no interest in promoting the authenticity of the places they visit or encouraging you to express your own, think of all the ways you can engage more authentically with a place and the impact your engagement has on the community you encounter.

*This article was inspired by an essay of the same title by Tom Faber and ‘The Myth of Authenticity’ by Daphnee Denis.

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