Perhaps this is already obvious, but aside from visiting ancient monuments, Rome provided us with an interesting opportunity to watch other travellers as well. I found it a bit of a shock to the system, the tourism, the fact that English seemed to be the dominant language, and the street vendors selling selfie-sticks, powerbanks and the good old umbrella. It all felt very in-your-face after three months of Moscow, where foreign tourists are still relatively rare. In Rome in contrast, the day-to-day activities of people clearly now revolve around the tourism industry.
The symbol of the in-your-face consumerist tourism was the selfie stick. It was everywhere, both amusing and frustrating. Coming out of the Colosseum, for example, we faced a wall of selfie sticks, which formed a circular tourist trap. Getting past this metal/human barrier was more of a challenge than getting through the narrow, claustrophobic, and crowded stairs up the dome of St Peter’s Basillica. It would have been useful to have some gladiatorial training or additional armour…
I can see the value of a selfie stick, especially when you are on your own somewhere, somewhere remote where people don’t speak your language. I also understand the attraction of sharing your pictures, and why you might want pictures of yourself in front of monuments and sights, rather than just the sights themselves. I’m just not convinced that the bustling city of Rome is one of the remote locations where a selfie stick is of optimum use. In fact, a lot of the time it seemed a hindrance- reading and sending messages on a phone that is mounted sideways on a stick didn’t look easy based on the contortions I observed.
While I knew that we were the same as all of the other folks, marching around Rome with our to-do list and our photographs of the same shot you can find on the Facebook thousands of times, the selfie stick was suddenly the sign when the traveller became the tourist. It was the symbol of fast photos, of ‘proof’ that you were there, and the ‘boxed in’ form of travel. The independence of the selfie stick, which was its appeal, also became the symbol of isolation. Use of a selfie stick frees you from the simple interaction with other people that happens when you ask someone else to take a photo of you, opening up the possibly of a small talk. Through avoiding interaction with tourists or locals, you manage to stay in a closed social bubble, much like walking through the world with your earphones plugged in.
That’s not to say that the selfie- stick was all bad. With or without one, we were surrounded by them, and made the best of it. In general, folks were bemused. Poses were copied, colours compared, photos were willingly or unwillingly photobombed, and the darned sticks shaped our experience of the city.
Nonetheless, I hope that the selfie stick is a fad that will go away quickly- I think my amusement might soon turn into annoyance.