Five exchange students huddle around my laptop, peering excitedly at the footage they captured during recent travel expeditions. As the final video comes to a close, they sit back in a moment of perplexed silence.
An American student named Sadie Flood, is the first to speak her concerns. “It seems like we are holding our phones in the background of almost every shot.”
There is no shortage of information marking the correlation between the rapid advancement in technology and rise in social media usage. In fact, PewResearchCenter estimates that nearly 75% of individuals accessing the internet are additionally using one or more social media application. An article posted in MailOnline estimates that the average person spends 45% of their waking hours on various forms of technology.
Many individuals, such as Flood, continue to struggle recognizing when technology stops being utilized for the purpose of connection and practicality, and instead becomes a means of comparison and overindulgence.
Undoubtedly, the amount an individual has access to technology is affected by numerous factors, such as age and economical status. I decide to focus on a demographic not unlike Flood and her group of friends, this being students studying abroad in Cape Town.
I take my questions to Moses Karmali, creator of Southern Ambition Africa. Karmali has five years of experience traveling with exchange students, observing the varying degrees students utilize technology while traveling.
Karmali is a kind, soft spoken man in his early 30’s. He sits at my kitchen with a wide smile, jokingly asking what type of food I prepared for him in return for his time.
A survey published in MakeUseOf yields that young users rank Instagram as the most important social media app, outranking Facebook and twitter. I begin by asking Karmali how Southern Ambition utilizes apps like Instagram for their business tactics.
Karmali explains that the company publicizes an individualized competition for each adventure tour. One recent competition was to encourage students to post photos on Southern Ambition’s Instagram page throughout the trip. By the end of the tour whoever had the best Instagram won a prize.
“By updating the companies social media accounts during the trips, parents are able to view what their children are experiencing. This always has a positive impact on our ratings, “ Karmali explains.
I ask Karmali to give an instance in which he’s watched students using technology for the wrong reasons. Karmali explains that there is a reoccurring misusage of photography whenever he travels with students to orphanages. In a matter of minutes many students have a camera in hand to photograph themselves with the children.
“I believe some of them, find more value in taking a photo with the kid instead of spending time with the kid,” Karmali admits.
During autumn break, Flood visited an orphanage with Southern Ambition while traveling to Victoria Falls. She voices similar concerns.
“At one point a boy was sitting on my lap and asked me when I was going to take a picture. This really caught me by surprise because these children have no way to even see the pictures online. It’s unsettling that they expect the visitors to take photos with them.”
A study posted in AIS Electronic Library confirms that the more time a person spends surfing and posting on Facebook, the more this individual reports increased feelings of envy, comparison, and sadness.
However, if used for the right reason’s, technology can have a beneficial impact on many people’s lives. Janick Rohrbach, an exchange student from Switzerland, explains that certain applications, such as Star Tracker help him capture moments.
“If I open Star tracker at any point in the day, it will show me exactly where the stars are going to be positioned at night. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using technology in this way. Sharing quality photos with my family helps them understand and support why I value traveling so much.”
My last request is for Karmali to provide an example of a situation similar to Rohrbach’s, in which he has noticed a student using technology for means of connection rather than comparison.
Karmali explains that when Southern Ambition brings students to the Okavanga Delta in Botswana, he observes an amazing connection between the students and the Polars guiding the boats to the island. Even though they have to walk an hour to access Facebook at an internet cafe, the Polars continue to go in order to maintain their unique friendship with the students.
“I was so happy with what Facebook had done, connecting this man deep in the Delta in Botswana with an American exchange student,” Karmali says, smiling.
Karmali’s experiences lead one to wonder whether the mere existence of technology is not the ultimate issue at hand, rather the problem arises when students choose to use social media for the wrong reasons.
“I think students need to understand they will never be fully in the present if they are too concerned with how they can impress others in the future.” Karmali states.
AIS Electronic Library:
Southern Ambition Africa: