Teens love vacation selfies; adults, not so much

Jul 30, 2014 by Beth J. Harpaz
This June 2013 photo shows Abigail Austin taking a selfie on a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, when she was 17. Young travelers say they enjoy taking selfies to preserve and curate travel memories while sharing experiences with friends. But some older travelers worry that spending too much time on social media can be a distraction from enjoying and learning about a place. (AP Photo/Susan Austin Photography)

(AP)—Jacquie Whitt's trip to the Galapagos with a group of teenagers was memorable not just for the scenery and wildlife, but also for the way the kids preserved their memories. It was, said Whitt, a "selfie fest."

For this generation, "digital devices are now part of the interpretive experience," said Whitt, co-founder of Adios Adventure Travel.

Indeed, many parents love seeing their kids taking and posting to when they travel. It shows "they are engaged and excited about where they are and what they are doing," said Susan Austin, a photographer and Iowa mom. "To some, it might be bragging, but I think it's more about a way today's teens connect with and feel part of a group."

But some adults think there's a downside to vacation selfies. They see them as narcissistic distractions that can detract from the travel experience. And they point to controversial examples—like a smiling selfie from Auschwitz posted to Twitter—as proof of the potential for poor judgment when young travelers use social media.

In addition, when traveling teens spend time taking selfies, "they're so busy documenting, I wonder whether they're actually experiencing it," said Peg Streep, who writes about psychology and millennials. "What should be an experience of learning and growth instead just says, 'Look at me.' It's a narcissistic moment that's really about getting likes."

Streep pointed to a study by Linda Henkel of Fairfield University in Connecticut that found museum visitors remember more about what they've seen if they don't take photos of the objects they're viewing. That suggests that any type of picture-taking can take "you out of the moment of the experience and shifts your attention."

This July 2014 photo provided by Adios Adventure Travel shows a group of American high school students, from left, Isabela Gettier, Elizabeth Thomas, Hannah Whitt Linsly and Stephanie Kirby posing for a group selfie on a trip to the Galapagos. Young travelers say they enjoy taking selfies to preserve and curate travel memories while sharing experiences with friends. But some older travelers worry that spending too much time on social media can be a distraction from enjoying and learning about a place. (AP Photo/Adios Adventure Travel, Jacqui Whitt)

Another concern is practical. A real-time selfie from a far-off place tells the world you're not home. Leora Halpern Lanz, of Long Island, New York, loves it when her three kids take vacation selfies because it's their way "of validating where they were." But they're not allowed to post images until the trip is over: "I don't need their friends or friends of friends knowing the house is empty."

Lanz says the widely criticized Auschwitz selfie also shows "the risks of kids posting on social media" when they don't know what's appropriate.

Breanna Mitchell, the young woman who took the smiling Auschwitz selfie, received death threats and messages urging her to kill herself after the image went viral. In a video interview with TakePart Live, Mitchell said the selfie was misinterpreted. She'd studied World War II history with her father and they'd planned to visit historic sites together, but he died before they could make the trip.

Her selfie from the grounds of the concentration camp was her way of saying, "I finally made it here. I finally got where me and my daddy had always said we were going to go," she told TakePart Live. Looking back now on the selfie, she says, "I just went so wrong with that."

Still, most travel selfies are innocent and purely celebratory—as well as being a way for teens to keep in touch with peers. Taylor Garcia, 17, who traveled to Texas this summer on a family road trip from Oklahoma, says selfies are a fun way to remember places like Disney, SeaWorld and the Caribbean, but she also takes them "because I want to show my friends what I'm doing."

Her mom, Melissa Garcia, who posts her own family trip photos on her blog, ConsumerQueen.com, encourages the selfies. "It's a great way to preserve memories," she said, adding that other families have contacted her after seeing the photos to get advice for their trips.

Austin's daughter Abigail, 18, who shared selfies from a trip to Portugal, doesn't see the point of posting travel pictures without familiar faces in them. She wants a photo that shows, "Hey, I'm having fun! And I like seeing them of other people, too."

But at least one tour company, Tauck, has a written policy discouraging digital devices. For Tauck's Bridges program, which specializes in multi-generational family trips, guests are asked to "turn off and stow their smart phones, tablets and other during shared group time."

Tauck spokesman Tom Armstrong says the company understands that digital devices can help teens pass the time during long car rides, flights or other downtime, "and we have no issue with that." But "when the tour director is giving commentary, or during museum visits, we think that our younger guests will actually get much more out of their trip if they're engaged in the experience and not distracted."

The bottom line, says Whitt: "Like all new emerging technology, the devices can be fun and wholesome, entertainment for all ages, or misused."

Explore further: What's a group selfie? Usie (pronounced uss-ee)

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

With selfies, the world turns the camera on itself

Dec 24, 2013

Stuck on a ledge halfway up a 3,000-foot (1,000-meter) cliff in Oman, his climbing rope sliced in two by sharp rocks, Jimmy Chin did what anyone else would have done in his predicament.

Recommended for you

Digital dilemma: How will US respond to Sony hack?

Dec 18, 2014

The detective work blaming North Korea for the Sony hacker break-in appears so far to be largely circumstantial, The Associated Press has learned. The dramatic conclusion of a Korean role is based on subtle ...

UN General Assembly OKs digital privacy resolution

Dec 18, 2014

The U.N. General Assembly has approved a resolution demanding better digital privacy protections for people around the world, another response to Edward Snowden's revelations about U.S. government spying.

Online privacy to remain thorny issue: survey

Dec 18, 2014

Online privacy will remain a thorny issue over the next decade, without a widely accepted system that balances user rights and personal data collection, a survey of experts showed Thursday.

Spain: Google News vanishes amid 'Google Tax' spat

Dec 16, 2014

Google on Tuesday followed through with a pledge to shut down Google News in Spain in reaction to a Spanish law requiring news publishers to receive payment for content even if they are willing to give it away.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

kochevnik
not rated yet Jul 30, 2014
I see my friends in beautiful moments and capture them. None of them knew they were extraordinarily photogenic at that moment. Selfies will always be third rate because the genius (if any) is behind the camera. The Auschwitz selfie is a great example of narcissistic myopia

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.