For The Ringer, Molly McHugh writes about geotagging natural phenomena on social media platforms like Instagram, and this builds hype for these locations, which in turn become overrun and potentially ruined by overpopulation. Read McHugh in partial below, in full via The Ringer.
Social media and Instagram did not invent discovery of beautiful outdoor spaces — but they have become a curator-friendly guide to collecting them. It’s like bingo: You’ve got your picture at Yosemite with Half Dome in the background, but wait — Crater Lake has popped up in the Explore tab five times in the past few weeks. You must go, and you must document it. America’s most gorgeous natural wonders: Collect them all!
Maybe that desire has something to do with finding and touching a place that hasn’t been found and touched. Manifest Destiny is defined by the nation’s westward territorial expansion, but it’s also a philosophy about the need to conquer, to discover. What happens when social media increases the rate of outdoor discovery? How long until every corner of the planet has been Instagrammed and geotagged?
These may seem like ridiculous questions, but they’re more legitimate than you might think. It’s become so easy to tell the world what you’ve discovered, and technology can so accurately plot it, that we have arrived at a curious moment in a kind of digital manifest destiny: keep cataloguing, or keep things secret? As every place becomes attainable and collectible, tourist attractions that aren’t prepared — or, really, meant — to host hundreds or thousands of yearly visitors are bombarded with them; national parks visitor numbers have increased 26 percent over the last decade, according to the Associated Press. The report says that just in July, the 10 most visited parks suffered more than 11,000 vandalism incidents. In 2015, ranger warnings to visitors increased nearly 20 percent from the previous year — resulting in more than 52,000 being issued.
Many of these visitors, lured in by inspiring, jealousy-inducing Instagram posts, aren’t prepared for what a location requires of them. And that threatens the very thing their social media presence prizes: beauty.