my unique and cherished personal memories are suspiciously similar to everyone else’s

After our trip overseas earlier this year, Natalie and I were keen to post some further reflections on our travel experiences — although we’ve found it surprisingly hard to carve out the mental and emotional space for that.

But in the firm belief that if something’s worth doing it’s worth doing badly (or late) here goes…

One thing that leaps out as Natalie and I glance back over the photos from our trip overseas is just how many of our unique and cherished memories — captured in our happy snaps — seem to be shared by pretty much everyone else who travels. Everyone just seems to take the same photos.

This was blatantly obvious in the Louvre. As you can see here, everyone wants their own photo of the (spectacularly underwhelming) Mona Lisa:

For another example you might try comparing THIS with THIS. Worse, on arriving in Melbourne we discovered that even our most self-consciously ‘arty’ shots are almost identical to those taken by some dear friends of ours.

So prevalent is this phenomenon that Microsoft has developed a software platform called Photosynth to harvest the millions and millions of tourist photos available on the web — combining them to produce lovingly-rendered, zoomable ‘dreamscapes’ of iconic buildings like Notre Dame Cathedral. How cool is that!

All of which suggests to me the doubtfulness of my initial assumption that holiday happy snaps are about capturing unique and cherished memories.

I’m wondering if they might perhaps have more to do with authenticity. You know, furnishing proof that I was there? Or even that I’m this kind of person, who’s accumulated these experiences as part of building my essential cultural cachet?

It’s an identity thing, I guess. All part of establishing your credentials as the kind of person you want to be — or be seen to be.  If this is the game we’re playing as we take happy snaps, then it’s actually their sameness with everyone else’s that counts rather than their uniqueness!

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7 comments

  1. Hi Chris,

    Regarding your second last paragraph, I’ve noticed that this has come to dominate Australian conversations more and more. For my non Christian relatives overseas travel are not only defining experiences for Australians, they provide a sense of credibility, but also self-worth.

    1. I’ve noticed something similar, Matt (and it’s not just confined to non-Christian Australians). It’s often a cherished cultural idol.

      Although there’s the equal and opposite tendency among Christians to react against this and give the impression that travel is necessarily sinful — unless you have to (forced migration, etc).

      Natalie and I found it a constant challenge to figure out how to be non-idolatrous travelers — on top of not knowing our way around or even being able to speak the language in lots of places!

  2. When i see ppl’s travel photos, most of the time i find them different from what i would take.

    e.g. if i gone to NY, there will be Yankees standium (tour, game, shop, whatever), something from Bronx, ground zero, and NYPD, statute of Liberty. No unis, no empire building, no night lights.

    maybe subways, but maybe the part where steam comes out of underground bit.

    that is just who i am/wannabe.

  3. ha ha, hi leo, I went to NY in 2000. I got photos of yankee stadium, walking around the bronx, statue of liberty, NYPD, WTC
    i did take empire state and central park photos though.

    That trip is the only time I have travelled, and I think it is profound becaue it provides a contrast to the ‘world’ that you usually live in.

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