LIFE THRU A LENS: Tourists take a photo of themselves with a selfie stick at a peach orchard in Hanzhong, northwest China's Shaanxi Province, in March (TAO MING)
Remember the days when people used to have a phone, a computer and a camera? I do, simply because it wasn't that long ago. However, as technology hurtles along at the speed of light, it might have escaped some people's attention that these three devices now come together in the form of a smartphone.
There's no need to carry all three devices when visiting a tourist site or monument--your handy smartphone can take a picture, log onto the Internet to post your picture on social media and then use the calling function to tell your friends about the pictures you've just posted. The point I'm heading toward is that nowadays, when people visit popular tourist sites--not just around China, but also around the world--they spend too much time on their smartphones rather than experiencing, enjoying and appreciating what is around them.
During my recent bout of excursions to the main tourist sites of Beijing when my father visited China and I played the know-it-all tour guide, it didn't escape my father's attention, nor mine, that the technologically advanced world we live in now has affected the way people experience things. It seems like most people are now living their lives through a lens, removing themselves from being encapsulated in the beauty and importance of the places they visit.
As we dodged our way among the hordes of people at world-renowned sites such as the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, it was plain and simple to see that most people were not looking around at the history they were in the presence of; they were far more interested in taking a picture or video of themselves so that they could quickly upload it to social media.
It's not just standard pictures that people take now. Selfie sticks and GoPro cameras have introduced a whole new way for tourists to document their trips. As I weaved my way in and out of other tourists, it became a battle as people were too occupied by filming themselves through their phones while they walked or held their extended GoPro cameras to get an even closer close-up. It seems to me that people are more interested in how their pictures look rather than making the most of being in that place.
For some, it will be the first and last time they visit these historical sites--the only time they will set eyes on the vast courtyards of the Forbidden City and the only opportunity to stare out a looking tower on the Great Wall. But, remember to make sure you save some time for yourself to take in the moment, the view across the Summer Palace that will stick in your mind for a lifetime and the feeling you get that no photo in the world could ever grasp the true emotion of. Live life in the moment, not through a lens!
While new technology is great and smartphones have the capacity and ability to take incredibly impressive pictures and videos, people should remember that these pictures are scattered all over the Internet already. The fact that people can now walk along a path, hold a phone using an extended pole, and film themselves or whatever is in front of them, rather than looking around at the impressive scenery, does boggle my mind. This is the kind of world we live in now, where tourists spend the majority of their trip glued to their smartphones: taking pictures, filming videos, messaging friends, posting pictures on social media, reading comments on their pictures, replying to comments, and so on and so forth.
Photography is fine, sure, but there comes a point when tourists need to lift their heads up and appreciate the history that surrounds them rather than constantly checking to see what it looks like on their phones. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not the camera holder.
The author is a Briton living in Beijing
Copyedited by Eric Daly
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