What's wrong with this selfie?
Jacquie Whitt's trip to the Galapagos islands 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 selfies and posting to social media 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."
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."
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 portable electronic devices during shared group time."
The bottom line, says Whitt: "Like all new emerging technology, the devices can be fun and wholesome, entertainment for all ages, or misused."
Critical thinking challenge: List three benefits of selfies.