In retrospect, I booked a room at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel for all the wrong reasons: to get an outstanding selfie. A legendary photo I’d been dreaming of when I shelled over the money to spend the night there, which is the only way you can gain access to the notorious rooftop pool. Or the “skypark”, as it’s called.

I’m sure you’ve seen photos of it’s infamous infinity pool circulating around various social media outlets. If you haven’t, go ahead and google Marina Bay Sands right now, but please come back to finish reading. Thanks.

Welcome back :)

It’s unbelievably epic, right? It’s one of the coolest spots I can ever think of to get some photos to brag about. There’s absolutely a valid reason why people would come here and go to great lengths to photograph themselves hanging over the edge of this infinity pool.

But as the reality is usually different than how we imagine it, I really struggled to get a picture at the Marina Bay Sands that looked like the ones I’d seen on Pinterest and Instagram, and it was actually pretty stressful. The pool/skypark was rather crowded with throngs of people doing the exact same thing as me and struggling to get some epic photos.

I would sit in my lounge chair and try to relax and fully take in my surroundings, putting the camera down. But then the light would change or people would move, clearing a small spot to get a photo and I’d jump up for the opportunity, only to have a different group of people beat me to it. I couldn’t even get a single photo with out any other people in it.

I don’t think I was alone in feeling stressed out by this, either, as not too many people seemed to even be enjoying themselves, or present in the moment. Just bending over backwards (literally) to get the right pictures.

After a frustrating few hours, I floated out of my body (figuratively of course) and was looking at this scene from an entirely different perspective. I started thinking more about the reasons we were all there in the first place, besides seeing this insanely innovative pool and view.

Someone sitting nearby made a joke when the lifeguard on duty was telling someone they could only swim in a restricted area. The joke went, “You can’t swim here! This pool is only reserved for taking selfies!” I laughed to myself. But, really, I wasn’t any exception to what was happening around me in this selfie quagmire.

I’m sure the situation looks pretty similar in many other landmarks or heavily touristed destinations nowadays. I’ve heard that New Years Eve celebrations in the most famous place in the world,  Times Square, have in recent years become quite tame as a result of everyone spending much of the experience taking pictures on their camera phones. In contrast, I remember watching a short video awhile back of Times Square New Years celebrations in 1950, with only one camera and subsequent spotlight panning the crowd. It looked like an absurdly good time, and I can’t tell you how badly I wish I could time travel back to be in that crowd rather than the present-day lineup of smartphone flashes and selfies at midnight.


image via Flickr

Since I tend to travel alone a good portion of the time, if I ever want to be in any of my pictures, my options are somewhat limited to selfies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it’s nice to have something to look back on at these moments that act as an abstract time capsule – you can laugh at your haircut at the time, marvel at your tan, try to remember where you put the shirt you were wearing in the photo. But if I’m spending more time looking down at my device analyzing, deleting and posting photos, rather than looking up at all the beauty that’s surrounding me, I’m doing something wrong. And I’m really sort of missing it all at the same time, aren’t I?

This is a very modern internal debate – whether to focus on capturing the moment and therefore direct my attention to my device, or to just experience the moment organically and let what I take away from it live solely in my memory. When you’re somewhere really beautiful and you’re not sure when you’ll ever be there again, you want to capture the moment and make it last somehow.

Philosophically speaking, it’s like we’re trying to be in two places at once. We’re trying to experience the present moment AND the future of how we’ll remember the moment at the same time. Photography has even been argued as a form of time travel in itself.

So what are some ways we can all cope with this very modern-day paradox? Here’s a few ideas:

1) Recognize (even briefly) the ludicrosity of it all.

Eckhart Tolle tells us that all we have to do to combat our ego is simply just to notice it. I believe the same idea can be applied here. If every now and then, we can just stay cognizant of the bigger picture and acknowledge that our online images do not REALLY define us in any important sense, I think we’d get somewhere. Perhaps being in such a compacted atmosphere of selfie-taking at the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool was a catalyst for me. At one point I felt like I was watching everyone around me through different eyes, and to be honest, everyone looked pretty ridiculous at this gorgeous place struggling to get the right shots. And because I was able to recognize this (even briefly), I think it helped keep things in perspective for me. Which in a broader sense might go a long way if I’m able to hold onto that perspective.

2) Put intention behind our posts.

As above, we can try to be mindful when we’re posting something on social media. Each one of our posts has power, just like each one of our thoughts does. Too many negative thoughts poison your mind, and likewise too many negative posts driven by our egos will poison the collective consciousness that we all share online.  Of course, most of us are lucky enough nowadays to have freedom to post whatever we want. But I believe with this freedom also comes responsibility. What is the driving emotion behind what you’re posting? What outcome are you looking for? Is it to garner a lot of “likes”? To brag? Or is it moreso to simply share our experience or a happy moment? There’s a big difference. Each of us truly holds power within each of our posts. Don’t forget that!

3) Try to stay as present as possible.

Again, I usually fail miserably at this. But I do try. In an ideal world, I’d at least get some photos that can serve as tangible memories (or a new profile picture), but then I need to put the camera down, and not miss out on the lucid, vivid, resplendent life that is unfolding around me. Particularly when traveling, try not to miss out on the full beauty of the place you’re visiting. I know how you feel: you want to capture it forever! To that adage, I have more to add here.

The “sharing” era is only just beginning and shows no signs of slowing down. We all know this. But what we should realize is what we now have in our hands is actually the most unprecedented opportunity in the history of humankind to truly connect with one another on a global level. This has a mammoth significance for our times, and one that we can use to our advantage and to grow as a population in a positive way instead of just as a burden of comparison.

Isn’t this really one of the most important benefits of traveling (and subsequently sharing our travel experiences, stories, photos) in the first place? To connect with different cultures and learn about people who experience life in a way that’s different from our own. But how can we do that when the camera is only ever pointed at ourselves?

Needless to say, I didn’t get an epic selfie at the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool. But I did wind up pointing the camera outwards instead, and I’m happy with it.