Antarctica: Can’t We Leave a Little of It to the Imagination?

This article was originally published in Extra Newsfeed.

At this point in my Instagram-consuming career, my feed is curated to the point where almost every image is a professionally composed photo of a beautiful natural destination.

The Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska; not Antarctica. But these days, who knows?

The Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska; not Antarctica. But these days, who knows?

Yet recently, one stuck out from all the rest — a drone photo posted by the National Geographic account featuring three brightly-clad kayakers, paddling through crystal-clear blue water with an iceberg in the background.

It could have been taken in any number of places, from the Canadian Rockies to Patagonia. We all have social media accounts that are geared towards our interests, and for mine shots like this are becoming fairly commonplace…people adventuring in landscapes of breathtaking beauty, accompanied by a caption urging the consumer of the image to live freely and follow your passion.

I’m a fan of these messages, and it’s generally the online persona that I’m in favor of presenting if you’re a devoted user of social media platforms. I’m a staunch advocate of pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone, exploring new places, and encouraging others to do the same.

But this photo — the one of the brightly-clad kayakers paddling across crystal-clear blue waters — left me disheartened.

It was taken in Antarctica.

I appreciate the connectivity that social media affords us. I’ve spent years living far away from my family and friends, and it allows me to stay connected with them in ways that were unimaginable just a few short years ago. They can follow my adventures with varying degrees of frequency and get a little insight into my life and how I’m living it. The same can be said for me and other intrepid travelers I’ve met along the way, both in real life as well as the digital world.

Yet social media also has the ability to create an aggressive sense of FOMO (that’s “fear of missing out” for those of you non-millennials), because you see all of these cool things that everyone else in the world is doing, and your first instinct is that I want to do it too.

Back in the good old days of printed photography, you needed to thumb through an issue of National Geographic magazine to see faraway places and be inspired to travel afar. If you were really into it…well, you had to wait until next month for the new issue to come out. Today, all you need to do is scroll more, and the world — or at the very least, the inspiration to see it — is at your fingertips.

This means that a far-off place like Antarctica no longer seems so out of reach.

When NatGeo posts a photograph from Antarctica they’ll link to the contributor’s personal Instagram page, meaning that within less than a minute you can see other photos of that contributor’s normal, average life. You can get a sense of what they are doing on a regular basis — are they a professional photographer, a freelance writer, or just an individual with enough disposable income to buy a drone and a ticket on an Antarctic cruise?

The unattainable has never seemed so attainable for two reasons: we can see as many of these inspirational images as we want, at any time of day, and the curators providing those images are using the same platforms that we ourselves use. If they can use Instagram to showcase Antarctica, then why can’t I? What’s really stopping me from exploring the ends of the earth?

As more and more people are inspired to travel and explore the world, which, mind you, I believe to be a good thing, they will continue to document their travels and their experiences. And with social media, the rest of us will continue to consume the documentation of these experiences.

Taking a trip to Antarctica will no longer seem so out of reach, because we will be conditioned that it’s something you can do since we’re constantly seeing photos of it, pretty much as often as we want.

Yet there’s a certain charm that’s lost when these exotic destinations are photographed and documented in such excruciating detail. Part of the allure of traveling to a far-off land is to see something that you can’t experience by sitting along at home, yet in the past few years, that has changed. You can sit at home and see these exotic destinations with your own eyes, even if you aren’t technically experiencing it.

Antarctica is one of the few places left on earth that has yet to be despoiled by humans. While I love looking at the breathtaking photography that certainly inspires me to see Antarctica, a part of me is saddened to see that this uninhabited, remote desert continent is becoming a place that’s on the verge of extensive human documentation.

When it comes to the natural world, I like leaving a little bit to the imagination. How do you feel?