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A Profile-Picture World

The world has always been changing.  People and places have grown, morphed, changed, boomed, busted and evolved. But with the advent of the internet, has the world ever changed so fast? Every week there seems to be a new social media sensation that everyone is rushing to use, like, share or follow.  Opinions and thoughts are so readily shared nowadays that there is little room for individual growth.

In this rapidly changing world, whereby sitting here in Bangkok I can plan my next trip abroad in its entirety, including looking inside my potential hotel room, looking at a street scene of the local neighbourhood I will be staying in, reading other people’s opinion of the places I want to go and changing my plans based on what others think, is there room for individuality?

With so many people having access to the thoughts and opinions of everyone else, where do children learn to foster their own beliefs, have their own individual thoughts and opinions, or learn to enjoy a situation whereby they aren’t simply looking for their next profile pic?

I recently visited a retirement home for working elephants here in Thailand. Yes, that’s correct, a retirement home for elephants. A group of ex-logging/tourist/farming elephants living out their days in comfort and pachyderm luxury, having daily baths in the river, scrub downs from their human keepers, and all the pineapples, bananas and cucumbers they could fit into their giant bellies. There were baby elephants running around the place, literally free range, banging into everyone and everything. Elephant bliss. It was a simply amazing place, and I found myself just standing around for several hours, watching, feeding, scrubbing, simply experiencing. I took a few photos, granted, but in the whole, I was simply loving the experience, and loving life. Where else in the world am I going to get bumped into by baby elephants, scratch behind an elephant’s ear, or help scrub the mud off its back?!

In my few hours of elephant paradise, there must have been 20 or so tourists turn up, mostly young, hop out of their hire car or tour bus, and not stay longer than a few minutes. They took dozens of photos, mostly involving themselves looking at the camera before jumping back in the car and heading off. Did they experience anything? Well, maybe, but it seems to be that many people today are living life for their next profile pic, rather than living life for the experience. It’s all about how the experience looks after the event in a kind of one-ups-manship. Was it a great experience or have they made it look that way on camera?

So what is the solution? Indeed, is this even a problem or is this just another way the world is changing. Are life experiences nowadays only as long as it takes to snap a photo and get back on the bus? I don’t have the answer. But what I do know is that I want my daughter to have life experiences in which she can enjoy, learn, grow, make friends, make mistakes, formulate opinions, learn how to socialise with others, and gain resilience without simply looking for her next profile picture.

This is not easy when all around us seem to be blogging, tweeting, posting and sharing. Even when I go to the local soft play area, mums and dads are taking pictures of their kids on the slide or in the ball pits to post online within minutes of it happening, rather than enjoying the moment with their kids. Maybe we need to make a more conscious effort to engage with our kids since what we risk is teaching them that experiences are there simply for the next profile photograph. Maybe it’s time to put down the phone, switch off the wifi and engage.

As someone who lives for the next adventure, I worry for people who live for the next profile picture.  Don’t get me wrong, I like putting cool photos on Facebook, but I don’t take photographs with Facebook in mind – I take them to capture the moment so I can relive the experience that I had. I don’t want my daughter to live for the profile pic moment. I want her to live without having to frame a picture perfectly to fit a megapixel requirement on a website.

By Ben Thompson, International Director of Strategic Partnerships for Lantern Camps, co-founder of Lantern International and hopeful elephant-whisperer.  He resides in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife and daughter.

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