What is the cost of a perfect selfie? This is a question posed by Joel Barde in a piece for The Walrus that looks at how the rise of selfie culture has affected the natural world. Beauty spots, which were previous havens for locals, have been made famous by social media, resulting in visitor numbers they cannot always accommodate. Not only that, but the quest for Instagram photos has also led inexperienced hikers to put themselves in dangerous situations, with some areas resorting to signs that list “the number of people who have been seriously injured or killed at various spots. Another takes the form of a glib text exchange between two friends: “That was worth the spinal damage.” “Said no one ever.””
Some industries see opportunity in courting social-media attention. Museums, for example, are increasingly allowing—even encouraging—photographs of their exhibitions. Last spring, the Art Gallery of Ontario hosted Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors, a travelling exhibit with exceptionally Instagrammable qualities: a series of rooms decorated with mirrors, lights, and fantastical backdrops. Every visitor was granted thirty seconds inside each room—enough time to snap a selfie. Over a three-month run at the AGO, the show was visited by more than 165,000 people (and, in November, the gallery started the hashtag #InfinityAGO as part of a bid to fundraise $1.3million to purchase one of the rooms). While some saw Kusama’s success as a testament to the internet’s ability to inspire the public to engage with high art, others were less convinced. “For all the depth of Kusama’s thinking . . . the social media profile of her biggest hits seems an irresistible prompt for a surface skim,” lamented the Toronto Star’s art critic. Many outdoor enthusiasts voice similar concerns for Canada’s public parks: engagement is growing, but it’s vapid, devoid of the deeper reflection that being in nature is meant to inspire. Whether it likes it or not, the park world is welcoming a surge of new visitors who don’t conform to—or understand—its etiquette.