In the old days with a box camera every photograph you took cost money, we were careful about how many photos we took. The film was costly and so was developing it. Photography has changed out of all recognition from the Brownie (1900), the point-and-shoot autofocus camera (1978), the SLR (1988) and then came the mobile phone (2002). As mobile phones became cheaper, more and more people had a camera in their pocket. Not only the wealthy tourist had a camera. The mobile phone camera helped spark the Black Lives Matter protests enabling the evidence to be gathered and spread rapidly on social media. Protesters and eye witnesses are able to capture the action and share their images. The storming of the Capitol was snapped, filmed and shared from mobile phones. The traditional media no longer have control of the images or the dissemination of the story. Alternative narratives can be evidenced and told- for good and bad.
The world’s first selfie stick photograph might have been taken in 1925. We have the photographic evidence, the pole is in the picture. But there may have been earlier ones. The modern selfie relies on the mobile phone coupled with the selfie stick. The Canadian inventor Wayne Fromm patented the Quik Pod in 2005, it was in the shops in the US the following year. In 2012, Yeong-Ming Wang filed a patent for a “multi-axis omni-directional shooting extender” capable of holding a smartphone. In 2013 “selfie” was the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year Time Magazine listed the selfie stick as one of its best inventions in 2014 and Bloomberg reported that selfie sticks were the must-have accessory of the year.
On the end of the selfie stick, the mobile phone has fuelled the trophy photos, “look at me I was here” as people jostle waving their sticks about to get the all-important evidence that they’ve been there. In January 2015 David Carr wrote in the New York Times “when I was touring the Colosseum in Rome last month. So many people were fighting for space to take selfies with their long sticks — what some have called the “Narcissistick” — that it looked like a reprise of the gladiatorial battles the place once hosted. Quite so. By 2019 selfie sticks and in some places cameras were being banned. Mashable published a list of places where the selfie was banned, from Westminster Abbey and the Sistine Chapel to the Alamo.
But mobile phones don’t only include the camera. They also enable the tourist to be tracked, generally, but not only, using anonymised data. Crime dramas now routinely reveal how law enforcement uses mobile phone records and tracking to identify potential witnesses and criminals. Many of the insurgents on Capitol Hill will likely be prosecuted using mobile data and the images they and their fellow insurgents shared on social media.
In Barcelona, the Tourist Activity Observatory has used mobile phone data to monitor tourists’ flows to enable management of tourism flows by changing exits and entrances to the metro, bus drop-off and pick-up points and signposted pedestrian routes. Mobile data allows a city to determine optimum management strategies for tourist mobility. Venice has taken the management of tourism flows a step further. Venis, the Venice-based multimedia and tech company. The city authorities can see where the visitors are from by analysing their phone data. The data is anonymously aggregated to maintain the privacy of individuals. For the first time, the city can count the numbers of “hit-and-run” tourists and map their movement around the city. Next will come management.
The mobile phone empowers both the tourist and the city managers. The tourist can use the phone to capture and access information; city hall and the police use the same phones in the hands of residents and visitors to manage tourism and tackle overtourism.