A candid photo exposes the reality behind so many aspirational Instagram photographs set in impossibly beautiful locations:
A decade ago, fewer than 800 people a year traveled to Trolltunga. Next year, that figure’s expected to hit 100,000.
People queue with dozens of others, babbling and checking their phones, to be photographed standing at Trolltunga in meditation.
What’s going on?
The 1990’s interpretation: Cheap air travel and a generation that puts more of a premium on experiences than stuff are seeking out the world’s greatest places.
The 2000’s interpretation: The explosion of information on the Internet and the ubiquity of smartphones has made people more aware of where they can visit and what sort of experiences they should pursue.
The 2019 reality: Instagram has made every place a de facto node on a real-world physical network. Social media influencers and network effects drive superlinear traffic to the most popular nodes, which only increases their subsequent popularity.
Instagram will eat the world
Twenty years ago, the National Geographic could publish a photo of Trolltunga to the fleeting interest of a magazine browser. One or two might add Norway to their holiday lists.
Today’s aspirational Instagram user identifies Trolltunga as a resource. In consuming that resource – by visiting, photographing, and posting – they make a honey trap that attracts 100 more.
Hence the most popular spots are noded and overrun, and this kind of mathematics implies they’ll be impossible within an iteration or two.
- Restricted access to the most popular nodes (quotas, dollars)
- A counter-cultural trend towards more obscure nodes (at best a delaying tactic)
- Simulcra nodes. A fake Grand Canyon. A 3D printed Taj Mahal. Machu Picchu remade for middle-class China to visit by train.
- The Instagram craze dies down (unlikely)
- Eventually we all live in the matrix, anyway
Many of these solutions sound phoney.
Are they phonier than the myth of Trolltunga today?