The latest victim of geotagging and Instafame is Mount Aspiring in New Zealand. Fears of damage to its delicate ecosystem are rising as thousands of people flock to the region in order to take the same photograph.
As reported by The Guardian, the volume of visitors is having an impact on the national park. Toilets have been installed and car parks enlarged in order to deal with the growing numbers, but locals argue that this has only made the location even more accessible, thus drawing even more people.
Of particular interest is Roy’s Peak, which features a track that takes walkers on a gentle 5-6 hour hike and offers stunning views across Lake Wanaka. This lake is overlooked by the Southern Alps, a mountain range made familiar to many after being used for the filming of The Fellowship of the Ring. Social media users seem to be particularly keen to get a shot of themselves looking out over the landscape with their arms outstretched — so many that there is often a queue.
While it’s easy to get annoyed by this phenomenon, consider the words of the character Cueball in one of my favorite comics by XKCD: “If ‘other people having experiences incorrectly’ is annoying to you, think how unbearable it must be to have a condescending stranger tell you they hate the way you’re experiencing your life just at the moment you’ve found something you want to remember.” In this instance, it's worth caring about how people enjoy something if that enjoyment poses a direct threat to a fragile alpine ecosystem.
Furthermore, the position of the arms suggests isolation and a sense of awe inspired by the landscape. Given that there's a crowd of people waiting for you to put your arms down and move out of the way, one wonders how valuable that image can be. No doubt many believe that they're repeating this trope with a tongue firmly lodged in their cheek, but I look forward to the day when we've reached "peak arms outstretched." Perhaps the yellow anoraks can start staying at home, too.
Fstopper Tim Behuniak has written before about how we should resist geotagging the exact location of our photographs, but unfortunately, for many locations, not having the precise coordinates is probably not going to affect visitor numbers.
Lead image by John Vossen, used under Creative Commons.